The kid from Deer Park, a recent Hofstra grad, had just landed a professional gig as an actor - his first and the first of many tough-guy roles. He and Jay Black, of Jay and the Americans, were cast as hit men in "Contract on Cherry Street," a 1977 TV film starring Frank Sinatra.
Robert Davi, a singer-actor with opera training, was blown away. "Growing up an Italian-American kid, I idolized him," says Davi, who presents the world premiere of "A Tribute to a Legend: Davi Sings Sinatra" at his alma mater this weekend.
"On my first day of shooting with Sinatra," Davi recalls, "he points to me afterward. 'I saw the dailies, kid. You were terrific.' I'll always remember that and having my first Jack Daniel's with him at a social club in Little Italy. He was with Harry Guardino and Marty Balsam. Sinatra waved me over and asked what I'm drinking. I said, 'I don't drink.'
"He says, 'If you don't drink, you're fired.'
"So I said, 'I'll have what you're having.' "
Davi, who went on to play James Bond villain Franz Sanchez in "Licence to Kill" and Special Agent Johnson in "Die Hard," promises many more Sinatra anecdotes.
THE MAN COULD SING His star-struck allegiance aside, Davi genuinely admired Sinatra's vocal prowess. "Sinatra applied bel canto techniques to his singing," says the former Juilliard student who once won the New York State opera competition. "That set him apart from the other crooners. He bridged the gap between popular and classical with his tremendous vibrato line. It's the difference between him and Elvis, really. There's a timelessness in his voice. Others have a datedness. They're of the moment. I think a lot has been lost with technology. Singers today don't need to project, and they can fix their voice in the studio. Back in Sinatra's day, you were on your own. Those voices aren't being developed today."
GOLDEN AGE "One of the things I want to do with this show," Davi says, "is bring back some of that golden age of vocal technique and songwriting. The great American songwriters were our Shakespeare. Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones and on and on." Also Long Island's Ervin Drake: Davi will sing his hit, "It Was a Very Good Year."
His creative consultant on the show is actor Chazz Palminteri, who co-starred with Davi in "The Dukes," the latter's directorial debut. Hofstra Entertainment's Bob Spiotto directs the tribute, which the team plans to take on the road. "It's thematic," Davi says of the show's grouping of songs. "Romance, love, despair, self-renewal and the individual journey - things people can relate to with what's going on in their lives. This music is so powerful."
WHAT World premiere of "A Tribute to a Legend: Davi Sings Sinatra." Opening act, stand-up comic Tom Dreesen
WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2 p.m. at John Cranford Adams Playhouse, Hofstra University, Hempstead
INFO $30, seniors $25, students $18;