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by Michael Portantiere

Jack Jones: Upholding Standards

  • JackJones-edit.jpgEveryone of a certain age has his/her own favorite mid-20th century pop singers, based on all sorts of qualities including voice, style, phrasing, and repertoire. But in terms of sheer vocal beauty, range, and technique, Jack Jones was unquestionably among the best of the best.

    The son of singer/actor Allan Jones and actress Irene Hervey, Jack is a show business thoroughbred. Although he won Grammy awards for his recordings of "Lollipops and Roses" and "Wives and Lovers," two songs that have not withstood the test of time, his impressive discography includes gorgeous performances of "All the Things You Are," "Love Is Here to Stay," and dozens of other standards that sound as fresh as if they were recorded yesterday.

    Jones is still out there doing it, and he'll be doing it at Feinstein's at Loews Regency this week (June 26-30). That gave me the golden opportunity to speak with one of my (and my parents') all-time fave singers.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Hi, Jack. Where are you?

    JACK JONES: I'm home, in the California desert.

    STARS: Well, today it's about 96 degrees in New York.

    JACK: It's 110 here today.

    STARS: Yes, but no humidity! I was lucky enough to catch your act at Rainbow and Stars some years ago. That was the one and only time I heard you sing live, but I know you later appeared several times at the Oak Room [in the Algonquin Hotel].

    JACK: It was quite a run there, just about every year. Then Marriott bought the place and decided to kill the room. We had a great time there. Look up Stephen Holden's reviews of my shows; they're wonderful.

    STARS: This will be your debut at Feinstein's. Have you ever been to the room?

    JACK: Yes. Michael [Feinstein] came to see me at the Oak Room just about every time. He took me over to the Regency and said, "Hey, this would be a great place for you to work."

    STARS: I don't know if you're aware of this, but apparently some people are petitioning Marriott to reopen the Oak Room.

    JACK: Well, that's good!

    STARS: Tell me what you have planned for your show at Feinstein's.

    JACK: I'm going to come in and do what I do, sing the songs that are close to my career and that I've always loved. After that, I'll be working on a new show, a tribute to Sammy Cahn, because next year is his 100th birthday year.

    STARS: You're going to have a lot to choose from with Sammy Cahn.

    JACK: He was one of my best friends, and his widow is still one of my best friends. We're going to impart a lot of his observations about his music in the show, and stories about how some of the songs were written -- like the phone call he got from Frank [Sinatra] saying, "I need this tomorrow." He used to write wonderful parody lyrics, and I loved the quickies he wrote for Dean Martin. There's the song that goes "This is my first affair, so please be kind," but Sammy changed it to "This is my first affair, so -- what goes where?"

    STARS: Did you know those guys pretty well -- Sinatra, Dean Martin, that whole group?

    JACK: Of course I did.

    STARS: So, you weren't exactly in the Rat Pack, but you were close to it?

    JACK: Yeah, close to it. I was a little younger than that generation, but I was there. I think I was on The Dean Martin Show about four times.

    STARS: You've worked with some of the all-time greats. I really enjoy watching you on the Judy Garland Christmas special, with her children.

    JACK: I just ran into Lorna [Luft] the other day at a restaurant. I had her sit on my knee [like she did on the show], which was not necessarily a good idea. It was fun for us, but the other people in the restaurant weren't impressed by my doing that! Judy was a great, great gal. When my daughter was about 12, I sat her down to show her that special, and I said, "I want you to look at this show because I want you to know who this lady was. She was quite special."

    STARS: I have about five of your albums on my iPod, and they're filled with standards and Broadway songs. It occurs to me that you came up in an era that saw the last gasp of songs from Broadway musicals becoming pop hits.

    JACK: It was a great time to interpret the songs of great writers. Now, on American Idol and shows like that, everything is flat-out and full-bore. Good singers, but they're under a lot of pressure.

    STARS: The title of one of your albums is She Loves Me, and six of the 12 songs on it are from Broadway, including that one. You've never done Broadway, but I know you did quite a bit of theater on tour and in stock.

    JACK: Yes. I did a full season of Man of La Mancha on the road, and Guys and Dolls in Las Vegas. I did a lot of shows in the days when the stars would go out and work for John Kenley.

    STARS: There was a review in The Wall Street Journal that complimented you on your "Olympian chops." I was trying to think of another pop singer from your era who had such a great vocal instrument, and the only one I could come up with is Vic Damone.

    JACK: Vic and I have a mutual admiration society, but I think I'm right when I say he had the definitive, most beautiful pop male voice.

    STARS: You've probably been asked this a million times, but how do you feel about the fact that your two biggest hits are now thought of as quaint and not politically correct?

    JACK: Well, I think "Lollipops and Roses" is still politically correct; it's a beautiful song about how a man should treat a woman, and it's not a bad premise. However, "Wives and Lovers" is absurd. It was actually absurd back then, we just didn't pay attention to it. They asked me to sing the song, and I said, "Sure." I didn't think much about it. But in later years, after the National Organization of Women was formed, there were women who were trying to punch me through my car window. I thought, "Hey, I won a Grammy for this song, but I meant no harm!"

    Published on Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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