Star-Bulletin Features

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Jimmy Borges holds a set of arrangements
written for Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra’s biggest fan

Jimmy Borges sings from
Frank's own arrangements

By Tim Ryan

Jimmy Borges is singing verses from Frank Sinatra classics "Old Man River" and "My Kind of Town" between sips of warm iced tea in the crowded Honolulu Club restaurant.

Lunch-time diners cast side glances at the entertainer of four decades when he croons: "We all work on da Mississippi, where we all work with da white folk." Then Borges quickly follows with his own version of "My Kind of Town:"

"My kind of town, Kalihi is; my kind of town, Kalihi is.
"My kind of people who shaka you, Kalihi is."
"Kuhio Park Terrace, Kalihi is.
"Oahu State Prison, Kalihi is. ..."

The looks get curiouser and curiouser but Borges doesn't notice as he waxes poetic about his idol Sinatra, to whom he pays tribute this weekend in two concerts with the Honolulu Symphony.

For these performances, Borges will be using for the third -- and probably last -- time Sinatra's personal musical arrangements.

"They were written by the best pop arrangers in the world who took a standard and structured it to the specific phrasing . . . of Sinatra," Borges said. "He was a favorite of songwriters and arrangers because he always sang in the pocket, exactly the way it was written, never out of context. That's the maximum tribute to their art form.

"He transformed these tunes into something personal by the sincerity of his performance. Frank seemed to believe the words he was singing."

The Sinatra pieces, by such great arrangers as Don Costa, Nelson Riddle and Quincy Jones, will be returned to the 81-year-old singer's estate and most likely donated to a university music department. They will be mostly unavailable to other singers without a hefty fee, said Borges, who received permission in 1990 to use them for free.

"It's unlikely that arrangements like these for a pop song will ever be done again because it's so costly," he said. "Today everything is synthesized. One chart from someone like Riddle would cost $10,000, minimum. Multiply that by 60 charts."

Sinatra is acknowledged by music critics and the record-buying public, who usually don't agree about much, as the greatest pop singer in American history.

As an artist, Borges concurs.

"Sinatra is the total master of vocal technique. He was the first at holding phrases for such a long time, sliding from note to note. The way he can get vibrato on the high notes is amazing."

Then there's Sinatra's breath control.

"He can hold phrases for 20 or 25 seconds," Borges said. "The best example is on 'Old Man River.' He must have an extra set of lungs."

Borges never does Sinatra impressions.

"I sing the music the way it's written; I'm faithful to his music," Borges said. "I try to invoke that inherent sense of honesty in the singing. When Frank sang ballads he never hit you over the head with it and you still believed him when he said he loved someone or was devastated by a broken love affair.

There's another connection between Borges and Sinatra besides music. Way back in the 1960s when Borges was working in Las Vegas, Sinatra dated the woman who would become Borges' first wife, Shizuko Yagi.

"I think she was between Juliet Prowse and Mia Farrow," Borges said, laughing. "Frank had the voice but I got the girl."


Jimmy Borges joins the Honolulu Symphony with a tribute to Frank Sinatra:
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $15-$47.50; available at the symphony box office and Connection outlets
Call: 538-8863, 545-4000 or (800) 333-3388

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