Join us at the Box Factory for a new take on Ol’ Blue Eyes. Unwrapped with Mike Cortson & David Lahm will take place on Saturday, August 26, 2017 from 7:30pm – 9:30pm, at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph, MI.
About The Guys
Mike Cortson says he’s always been a fan of Frank Sinatra’s voice, but like so many other fans there’s also something to be said about the coolness behind Ol’ Blue Eyes’ swagger. “My mom was a huge fan, so she played his songs around the house a lot, but I was always fascinated with his personality – the overall Frank Sinatra image of who he was,” Cortson says. “He was the cool guy. He was the bad boy. People were like, ‘Man, I wish I could do that kind of stuff, but I know I’d get in trouble.’ There were all those rumors about his association with the underworld. That’s one reason he was buried with a roll of dimes. When Frank Jr. was kidnapped, he was making phone calls on pay phones, and had to borrow dimes. After that, he always carried a roll of dimes.” Behind the stories, and the swagger, and the coolness, of course, was the voice. Sinatra recorded nearly 1,400 songs in his storied career, becoming one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.
While Cortson, a retired attorney and recording engineer, may still be wishing for a little more of that Sinatra swagger, he has been able to capture a glint of his vocal prowess in a stage show that delves deep into the Sinatra catalog. The St. Joseph resident performs a number of Sinatra classics and a few others from the Great American Songbook alongside pianist David Lahm at the Box Factory for the Arts. Lahm, a New York City native who frequently performs in Southwest Michigan, has his own connection to the Frank Sinatra-era of music. His mother is Academy Award-winning librettist and lyricist Dorothy Fields, who wrote more than 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films. Her most well known pieces include “The Way You Look Tonight” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
“David had this unique upbringing being a child in that whole Tin Pan Alley scene,” Cortson says, “his ‘Uncle’ Jerry was Jerome Kern. That was the norm for him. So it’s both inspiring and scary at the same time trying to do those songs justice. He’s told me before, ‘You really nailed that’ or ‘Mom would have liked that.’ He approves, and if you reach the audience with it, then you know you’ve done it justice.”
Cortson and Lahm met in 2010 during an open mic event at The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks. Lahm who was hosting that night was looking for a few willing singers in a reluctant crowd. Cortson, who happened to be recording the show for WRHC (106.7-LP) in Three Oaks was eventually coaxed onto the stage. Cortson sang the Sinatra classic “I Got You Under My Skin.”
David said, “Hey, you’re pretty good,’ and every time he came back we’d do a couple of songs together,” Cortson says, “then he began to push me a little farther to working on some more tunes to see if we could build a show out of it, and we have continued to add to it.”
The duo’s set list features a cross section of Sinatra’s most popular songs, including “The Lady is a Tramp,” “My Kind of Town,” “My Way,” “Strangers in the Night” and “New York, New York.” Part of Sinatra’s success with those songs was in the unusual way he delivered them. He’s usually a half beat behind the band, and he breathes in odd places. Where you’d expect him to take a breath, he goes right through, and he can extend it out. The way he phrased his songs was all influenced by Tommy Dorsey. He was looking at where Tommy would breathe when he was playing trombone, and kind of mimicked that with his singing. At the time, a lot of male singers copied what Bing Crosby did. You sing a line, you take a breathe; sing a line, take a breathe. Frank saw you didn’t have to do that. You could sing a line and a half and breathe and then sing the other half of the line and breathe. He could put that breath wherever he wanted. It became this excellent way of telling the story in the song. I think that’s really what he was trying to do.
Cortson is quick to point out he doesn’t try to imitate Sinatra’s voice or even his unique phrasing during his performance, instead relying on his own voice, and connection to these classic songs.
“I don’t try to sound like him at all. I just do what I do,” he says. “People will still come up to me and say, ‘Wow, I haven’t heard that song in years!’ They appreciate this music because you don’t hear it that often. You can’t find it on the radio. And people just don’t write songs like this anymore.”