Vic Damone: Surprisingly jazzy
San Francisco Examiner Page C 3
Vic Damone: Surprisingly jazzy
EXAMINER MUSIC CRITIC
July 16, 1997
WHEN I HEARD that voice, I knew it must be singer Vic Damone on the
line, phoning to say that he is appearing at the Concord Pavilion Friday
with Rosemary Clooney. "And, by the way" he added, "my new record (CD)
release, "Greatest Love Songs of The Century' (Q&M), is the finest thing
I've ever done."
Damone then had something to say about his career, the music business
and, as the old song says, "What's the Matter With Kids Today."
"I'm in Atlantic City - got a week here, then I'm coming to San
Francisco; love your city. Y'know, I'd like to do my symphony concert
out there - "Greatest Love Songs of the Century," with a special section
of some of Frank Sinatra's hits. Frank loaned me his own charts;
wonderful stuff. He told me "You sing my songs - I'm out of it for
Like most men singers who came up in the post-war 1940s, Damone pays
homage to Frank Sinatra. Francis Ford Coppola even offered the
Sinatra-like role of Johnny Fontaine in "The Godfather" to Damone, but
it didn't pay enough. Instead, Al Martino grabbed the offer, thus
prolonging his fading career. The 1950s and '60s were rough times for
mainstream pop singers.
"You're singing at Concord on the first night of the jazz festival,"
I said. Damone seemed nonplused. "Anyone out of the big band period
these days is considered a survivor of the "swing era,' and "swing' and
"jazz' are synonymous."
"But I never was a band vocalist," he commented, "I was a solo
singer. I worked shows and record sessions with great orchestras . . .
so now I'm with Rosemary Clooney as a jazz singer? I first heard her
with her sister Betty singing with Tony Pastor's band. We're about the
same age (Damone was born 15 days later than Clooney, on June 12, 1928).
"Two things caused the slump in my kind of music in the 1950s,"
Damone continued. "First was the payola scandals - jocks were getting
paid by record companies to play certain tunes. When that blew up,
record programming on radio was given to musical directors and
librarians, which led to the take-over of all radio music programming by
the record companies.
"Then," Damone continued, "the young generation of the '50s grew up
hostile to the mess their parents were making of the country - Korea,
Vietnam; they didn't like what we were doing to their lives. Anything
that had to do with us they didn't believe in. So the complaints,
situations where both parents had to work, restlessness of the young
people, anti-war feelings, became a nationwide clique of resentful kids
- and the jocks, record companies and young musicians saw it happening
"The record and radio industry are in a rut. The record stores are
run by punks who don't know anything but the monotonous crap that's
being played all over radio. And it's tough for people like me to get
records onto the market.
"Tony Bennett had connections through his daughter with executives at
CBS and he has a son who knows public relations, knew how to get his dad
exposure. They did a hell of a marketing job for Tony - spent a lot, got
a lot in return.
"After a little TV exposure," Damone continued, "we sold 20,000
copies of my new recording. Reader's Digest put $300,000 into the
project, but getting airplay, getting it into the stores is something
Damone, long a member of the Baha'i faith, then got off onto his
concerns for integrity of the nation - one-parent children, drugs,
decline in moral values and so-forth. "It's up to senior citizens to
take up the slack, to help families and children. If parents can't do
it, then grandparents must," he says. Damone has had more than his share
of family tragedies brought on by booze and drugs.
In the war years of the 1940s, Damone came to fame as a Perry
Como-Sinatra protege; he won an Arthur Godfrey "Talent Scouts"
competition. He made a lot of records, some did well; ironically, in
1962 he hosted a TV variety show featuring "far-out and different
music," meaning jazz. Among his guests were Dizzy Gillespie, Ella
Fitzgerald and Dave Brubeck.
He still is a magnificent singer ("Best pipes in the business,"
Sinatra one said) and his newish 2-CD set is a beauty - gorgeous
orchestrations, beautifully recorded and beautifully sung.
But, as he said, bravely, in ending the phone call, "Remember those
years when you were always the youngest in the crowd? Now, it seems I'm
always the oldest."
The Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival schedule:
Friday - Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Scott
Hamilton at Concord Pavilion, 8 p.m.
Saturday - McCoy Tyner, solo piano; Shirley Horn
trio; Gene Harris quartet; Dorothy Donegan trio.
Concord Pavilion, 8 p.m.
Sunday - Marian McPartland Trio; Karrin Allyson.
Concord Hilton, 6 p.m. Tickets for either dinner
and concert, or concert only.
©Copyright 1997, San Francisco Examiner
Page last updated/revised 011600
Return to the Bahá'í
Association's Main Web Page