"We're here to celebrate the favorite son of Hoboken," said Hoboken City Clerk James Farina Thursday afternoon at the 87th birthday party for Hoboken-born icon Frank Sinatra at City Hall. "He will never, never, never be forgotten."
For over 20 years, the affable Farina has been throwing birthday parties with cake and champagne in honor of the "Chairman of the Board," who was born Francis Albert Sinatra in Hoboken December 12, 1915. At the time, the crooner's parents lived in a modest tenement apartment at 415 Monroe St. on Hoboken's west side.
The birthday party was complete with vintage pictures of Sinatra in Hoboken and a visit from Sinatra's granddaughter, current Hoboken resident A.J. Azzarto.
Farina said that Sinatra will forever be an important part of Hoboken lore. "He's always meant so much to so many people," said Farina, whose uncle James Petrozelli was a member of the Hoboken Four, one of Sinatra's first singing groups. He added that by celebrating his birthday, many of the "old-timers" have the opportunity to tell stories and share memories.
"Ol' Blue Eyes," who died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, is widely considered one of the best American popular singers of the twentieth century. His velvety voice, coupled with his charm and charisma, made him a cultural institution that rivaled Elvis and the Beatles.
One lifelong Hoboken resident who has fond memories of Sinatra is former Hoboken Mayor Steve Cappiello. As he ate a piece of the birthday cake Thursday, he reminisced about how Hoboken used to be. In the 1920s and '30s, the city had large Irish and German populations and was a pretty rough place to live. Sinatra's father, Marty, boxed as a bantamweight under the name Marty O'Brien. Cappiello remembered how he had to fight under an Irish name because at the time the Italians were at the bottom end of the social spectrum.
Cappiello also said he was given his first job at a local newspaper by Sinatra's godfather. "Hoboken was very poor at the time," said Cappiello. "[Sinatra] was proof that you can go from poverty to fame and become a superstar. He gave a lot of us hope."
Current Mayor David Roberts said Thursday that Sinatra's link to Hoboken is still enduring. "There is an eternal bond between Frank Sinatra and the city of Hoboken," said Roberts. "We take a tremendous sense of pride that Frank was born in our hometown."
Roberts also said that it was a true honor to have Sinatra's granddaughter attend the annual party (see sidebar).
A very special guest
Azzarto, who lives with her husband in Hoboken, said that she jumped at the chance to attend the birthday party. "It's really an amazing honor," she said Thursday. "It's great that so many people here still love him so much and come together to celebrate his life."
In addition to singing the national anthem at opening day of Yankee Stadium this past April, Azzarto has also just finished developing a new five-piece jazz group called "A.J. Azzarto & Friends" which will make their Hoboken debut on Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. at the Goldhawk, at 936 Park Ave. They will be appearing there regularly as resident artists.
She said Thursday that her grandfather's music is very much a part of her life. "I grew up around his music," she said. "It's been really close to me my entire life."
Her husband, Matt Azzarto, is a member of the Sinatra tribute ska band, "Skanatra."
Sinatra's granddaughter preserves his legacy
By Sharon Henry
Reporter Staff Writer
A few years ago, Frank Sinatra's granddaughter, A.J. Azzarto (neé Lambert), was living and working in New York City. Friends suggested she come to Hoboken, where her grandfather had been born, and check out the changes in the city and consider moving here.
Now a Hoboken resident herself, Azzarto recently completed work as an associate producer on a new boxed set of her grandfather's work, Frank Sinatra in Hollywood [1940-1964].
Even though she'd always been in bands, Azzarto attended University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. After coming to New York, she worked for Helene Blue Musique, an independent music publisher. Later, she became involved in obtaining the music clearances for a lot of small independent films, including The Tao of Steve with Donal Logue, Down to You with Freddie Prinze, Jr., Trick, and Julian Donkey Boy, as well as the television program Wonderland.
Her experience in the film and music industry was great preparation for this recent project. "It got my deal-making skills in the ready. And being related certainly doesn't hurt," she said recently.
Although at first Reprise Records was a bit wary of working with a family member on the project, she convinced them. In addition to working in the film business, she had also become involved in Sinatra's legacy in the past, working on re-licensing agreements for the use of her grandfather's music in movies, television and commercials.
Azzarto initially got involved in the Sinatra in Hollywood project doing just the clearances with the companies in Hollywood who held the rights to the tracks that have been included, but the role expanded as the project evolved, and she is credited as an associate producer on the collection.
Indeed, while most of the companies with whom she negotiated for permissions were keen to be of help, there were a few who were not so helpful. "They have no perspective on one of the greatest singers of the 20th century," she said. Still, Azzarto was able to work out deals for a comprehensive collection, which includes almost everything from the period of 1940 to 1964. Azzarto added, "The only reason there isn't more is because either we couldn't find it or there was a lack of contractual agreement with certain production companies." One complication was that many companies have shuffled ownership and reorganized.
In the end, she managed to work out deals for all but four or five tracks.
Frank Sinatra in Hollywood is a beautifully produced, six-CD collection that also includes a hardbound book which features liner notes by Leonard Maltin, Michael Feinstein, and producers Didier Deutsch and Charles Granata, among others. Tracks have been digitally mastered, and the overwhelming majority are available for the first time in this format. Many have been saved from the effects of time, which destroys the old discs and delicate nitrate or safety film on which most were recorded. Others were originally recorded in the technology of that era, in which the dialog and the music and sound effects were often recorded on the same track, and several of the tracks preserved in this set still include the dialog or effects from those early recordings.
Other rare finds include outtakes, promotional spots, an interview, and Sinatra's acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actor Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures for From Here to Eternity in 1954. The boxed set lists at $119 but can be found for around $100 and is available at music stores everywhere, or from Amazon.com.
Azzarto said while all the tracks are amazing, "I'd have to say my favorites are 'One for My Baby' and the out-takes from 'Don't be a Do-Badder.' " This particular version of "One for My Baby" is significant because it "was recorded with just him and Bill Miller (the pianist) on a sound stage, and it's as if he's standing right in front of you - it's the most vulnerable you're likely to hear him in that version of the song. 'Do-Badder' is the last one on the set - it's hilarious to hear Frank, Dean, and Sammy doing their 'schtick.' "
As far as local response goes, it's been very positive. The day of the release, there was a small party held at the Goldhawk, owned by Azzarto's brother-in-law Fran Azzarto. Her mother, Nancy Sinatra, and producers Didier Deutsch and Charles Granata were there. Also, the producers have made her the publicity angle on the story. The syndicated television series Inside Edition taped a segment with Azzarto here in Hoboken. They went to Sinatra Park and to the Post Office, which will be renamed in Frank Sinatra's honor, had a slice of pizza at Benny Tudino's, and finished off the evening at the Goldhawk, where the party was held on the day of the release of the boxed set.
What would Frank think?
Does she have any idea what her grandfather might think of Hoboken today? "Frank would be so shocked and happy," she said. "The last time he was here with me was about 20 years ago. It was really a town in transition then."
Azzarto added, "After I got my first apartment here, I told my grandmother where it was, and she said, 'Your grandfather lived two blocks from there.' I walked past that house [on Garden Street] and thought about it. The person he was when he lived here, the person he was before he left - that was the man I knew. He wasn't the suave, sophisticated tough guy, that's what celebrity made him, and celebrities become attached to the identity assigned to them. But he was the most loving and tender person I've ever known."
Sinatra was born on Madison Street but lived in other parts of town before moving away.
As for future plans, Azzarto plays bass in the band Rocket with her husband, Matt Azzarto. Azzarto is also known to locals as a member of Hoboken's own Skanatra. Together, they also hope to work on an archive of all the masters of her grandfather's recordings and preserve work that might otherwise be lost.
Azzarto has also just finished developing a new group playing old song standards such as "One for My Baby," "Someone to Watch Over Me," and newer, jazzier pieces like "You Hit the Spot" and "Alone Together." This new act, "A.J. Azzarto & Friends" will make their Hoboken debut on Dec. 18 at the Goldhawk, where they will be appearing regularly as artists-in-residence.
For more information or to find out about the upcoming schedule of performances at the Goldhawk Bar & Lounge, located at 936 Park Ave., call (201) 420-7989 or visit their website at www.thegoldhawk.com.