Local Big Band leader pays tribute to Sinatra

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PITTSFIELD &mdashT; Before becoming "Chairman of the Board" and hopping aboard "Ryan's Express," Frank Sinatra struggled for success early in his career. His big break came 75 years ago when he latched onto a widely popular big band that propelled him toward international stardom.

For almost three years, January 1940 to September 1942, Sinatra was the lead singer for the Tommy Dorsey Band and soon — unintentionally — was upstaging the band with his unique singing style.

"There was a lot of dissention within the band because people were coming to see Sinatra, not them," said well-known big band/jazz drummer Gregory Caputo, who lives in Pittsfield.

Wanting to go solo, Sinatra left Dorsey in the fall of '42 , embarking on a music and movie career that would span more than 50 years with 150 million records sold worldwide.

On Sunday afternoon, the sound and spirit of Sinatra will fill the Colonial Theatre as the Gregory Caputo Big Band featuring Rob Zappulla presents "Come Fly With Me: A Frank Sinatra 100th Birthday Tribute Concert." Sinatra, having passed away in 1998, would have hit the century mark Dec. 12.

The 20-member Caputo band will be accompanied by Zappulla singing such Sinatra hits as "I'll Never Smile Again," "That's Life" and "Come Fly with Me."

"This band is the elite of the elite; there's Grammy nominees and Grammy winners," Caputo said. "I can count on them to perform well and there's a big bowl of pasta at the end for them."

The audience can expect Caputo and Zappulla staying true to the Sinatra sound without being copycats.

"I don't put on any airs or try to act like Sinatra — I'm not an impersonator," Zappullo said.

"You don't want to copy anybody; you want to portray the spirit of the person," Caputo added.

A native of the Springfield area, Caputo settled down in Pittsfield about 10 years ago after traveling the globe playing and recording primarily big band, swing and jazz with the likes of the Count Basie Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey band, Connie Frances, Sammy Davis Jr. and Phil Woods.

Caputo grew up loving the big band/swing sound he says is "part of the fabric of this country — truly Americana."

He noted this is a one-time gig and chose Pittsfield because of how it has grown artistically and musically in the past decade.

Zappulla is a trumpeter by trade living outside Hartford who has various forms of his own musical groups ranging from big band/orchestra to a quintet.

He has performed Sinatra songs for more than 20 years, turned on to his music through Conrad Gozzo, a trumpet player often featured on Sintra recordings and some live performances.

"[Sinatra] brought his own style and knew how to attach to the lyrics of the song — he brought emotion to the words," Zappulla said.

Sinatra's songs have endured for decades, even reaching fans barely alive when he died in 1998, because his delivery comes from the heart and usually with minimal preparation, according to Caputo.

"Sinatra wasn't big on rehearsals, usually a first-take guy in the movies and maybe three or four in the studio," Caputo said.

Caputo himself is well organized and prepared, but also encourages his musicians to be ready to play as they hit the stage.

"I don't like to rehearse as it takes away from the band's performance," he said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

IN CONCERT

What: "Come Fly With Me — A Frank Sinatra 100th Birthday Tribute Concert" with The Gregory Caputo Big Band featuring Rob Zappulla

When: Sunday afternoon at 2

Where: The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

Tickets: $40-$25

How: (413) 997-4444; berkshiretheatregroup.org; in person at the box office


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