Robert Davi is a name you may know from films like The Goonies but you’d be more likely to recognize him from his work on television. The role for which he’s best known is FBI Agent Bailey Malone on NBC’s Profiler, a character he played for the series’ entire four and a half year run.
He began his career 20 years before that, playing Mickey Sinardo in the TV movie Contact On Cherry Street. The guy who hand-picked him for the role was the star of the film, Frank Sinatra.
Davi remained close to Sinatra through the years and reveals the singer had always been an influence, even before they met. “Growing up in an Italian family, there’s the Pope and there’s Sinatra. Not necessarily in that order,” he laughs. "Two voices I heard as a young boy that affected me were Caruso’s and Sinatra’s. There was something in those voices that epitomized the purity of sound of the human singing voice, and the commonality of that was the bel canto technique, which I then studied myself.”
Today, Davi has channeled Sinatra’s influence, utilized the opera training he had as a youngster, mixed it into a heady potion with his great love of music and recorded an album. Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road To Romance is Davi’s tribute to his mentor and the Great American Songbook.
Perhaps he might have had something in common with Sinatra from the start. “Exactly,” Davi agrees. “My father was from Sicily. His mom and dad were from Sicily. My mother was from Naples. His mom was from Genoa. He was a consummate actor and singer, the greatest entertainer of all time. When I knew that I wanted to go into the field at an early age, I would emulate those figures that I respected, like he did with Bing Crosby. Bing Crosby was his Sinatra.”
Davi went to New York’s Hofstra University on a drama scholarship but music always held a special place in his heart. As a teenager, he won first place in the New York State School Music Association solo competition but after getting the part in Cherry Street, it was acting that became his bread and butter. Still, by putting his music on hold, he always had the sense something was missing from his life.
“Acting for me was like being in a prison, in a certain way. You’re limited by the part you’re playing and you’re limited by the film you’re in. So while it’s a lot of fun and liberating and expressive, it doesn’t touch your true nature. Aspects of your nature, perhaps. The dark side and the light side, you can have aspects of that. There’s been an overwhelming discontent in my spirit over the years. And I was wondering why. It was because I was really a singer. The totality of me is to communicate through song, and I was denying that.”
Davi’s love of Sinatra and the classic music of the Great American Songbook is obvious when you hear him sing these songs. But I wondered why he chose now to make this record. “To me, the great American songbook is the Shakespeare of America. It’s the golden age of American music. It’s what got my parents through a very difficult time. It got the country through a very difficult time. It was filled with optimism and hope and the world fell in love with America because of this music.
“We are in a time right now, and I felt it deeply over the last several years, of a divisive and, of course, an economic upheaval. There’s a lot of difficulty and there’s nothing unifying us musically. We have Lady Gaga, we have some great music here and there, but we don’t have that unifying music of the Great American Songbook. And there’s a reason why, I think, it’s starting to have a reemergence. No one’s taken the idea, like I’m doing right now, and saying here’s what it’s for. For me, this is what drives me more than anything."
There is something to be said for going where your heart leads you, which is what Davi has done. How daunting was the task of choosing the songs for an album he felt so passionate about? “Thematically I wanted to pick songs that traverse the emotional portal of a romantic involvement between two people, whether it be man and man, man and woman. Just romance. From the meeting, the elation of seduction, to falling in love, to the depth of love, to the falling out of love, to the despair of love, and then to the rebuilding of self, and then the rediscovery. Not only between lovers but also between us and our country again. So I wanted to echo a sentiment on the road to romance not only with each other but with the country, with America, no matter how difficult times are.
“The other aspect of it is culturally. In 1958, a song 'All the Way' won the Oscar. It was a song that Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote for the movie The Joker Is Wild, since Sinatra wanted a love song in the film. That won the best song for that year. Cut to a couple of years ago. The song that won the Oscar was a song called 'It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.' So you could juxtapose culturally and the message and the romance we had with our women and the respect that women held. Like in 'Here Comes That Rainy Day,' that’s how it was expressed. Not with anger. Not with degradation and all of that, but with a sense of pain and still a sense of poetry and respect.”
Performing live is another aspect of Davi’s newfound career which pleases him immensely. Whereas before, he looked to a TV or film crew for feedback, he now has a roomful of people he can connect with musically. “Oh, yeah, there is nothing better. I gave some performances over a year ago, pre-performances, to find out and to get the feedback. It was just tremendous. And then I did one in D.C. and one out here in Los Angeles for 1800 people with a 55-piece orchestra, and some more intimate places to find out the overall configuration of stuff, getting the response and it’s just tremendous.
“It’s the connection that music makes. Gustav Mahler, one of the great composers, said, 'Music is the closest to the absolute.' When you’re connecting to an audience and they’re there with you and you’re able to move them it’s just amazing.”
Finally, I wondered if he might eventually do an album of material by a talented unknown songwriter. “Absolutely,” he says emphatically. “My hope is to find this new Great American Songbook. To inspire young writers out there to speak to today but in that format to continue the canon of that music.”
For more information on Robert Davi, visit his website.