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(Originally Published In Pearl Magazine)
Frank Bennett Plays the Mornington Winter Jazz Festival
Australia’s most famous crooner Frank Bennett, whose stage name is an amalgamation of iconic crooners Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, combines the old and the new with his big-band renditions of contemporary pop hits, which sound like they were ripped straight out of the swinging post-war era.
When I spoke to him, he was renovating his house; miles away from the chutzpah of his stage persona. “I’m around power tools, the mortal enemy of the musician. Lose a hand, your game’s over!” he quips.
PEARL: Will you be playing traditional Jazz, or contemporary numbers during the Festival?
BENNETT: Mostly Sinatra, but I’ll throw in crowd pleasers like Creep. (Imitates heckler) ‘PLAY YOUR OLD STUFF!’ All my stuff’s old, what are you talking about!?
PEARL: Do people request arbitrary songs, not realising you need to rearrange them?
BENNETT: It doesn’t stop us; we’ll still have a go. We’ve butchered plenty of requests on stage. And we blame the audience… THIS WAS YOUR IDEA! WE NEVER SAID WE WERE GOOD! (laughs).
PEARL: Your stage name was originally Tony Sinatra. Why did you change it?
BENNETT: Various reasons… mostly so Sinatra’s family wouldn’t sue! Frank Bennett was the obvious inversion.
PEARL: How do you go about selecting the modern songs you cover?
BENNETT: They have to be able to transmogrify to swing without difficulty. The weirdest one was Tricky’s Poem, with those dark brooding raps. Hats off to anyone who can swing rap, I don’t think I’ve heard it.
PEARL: You’ve reinvented a lot of navel-gazing songs, like Under the Bridge and Disarm…
BENNETT: (Laughs) It was the 90s man. I call it premo (pre-emo).
PEARL: Are you attracted to contemporary songs that transcend generations?
BENNETT: Yes, anything with a touching message, or a good story. It can’t be twee like “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”.
PEARL: Any subversive lyrics that amuse you?
BENNETT: I have to clean up Creep; I can’t sing you’re so f…cking special. I sing mother-loving special (laughs).
PEARL: Have you received feedback from the artists you’ve covered?
BENNETT: The drummer from Radiohead said Creep (feigns English accent) “Has a good swing to it”.
PEARL: You’re also an established musician. Do you prefer playing saxophone, or being the front man?
BENNETT: I enjoy being the front man, in the cape and tights- my tuxedo; but I also enjoy being part of the band, wearing the shirt that I labour in. Which is going great-guns… I’ve still got all my fingers!
Bennett is playing June 6 at the Harba Oyster Bar&Grill at 7pm, and June 9 at The Grand Hotel at 5pm. For more info, go to http://www.morningtonjazz.com.au