When John English starts swinging through 'Nice 'n' Easy' or 'You Make Me Feel So Young' or 'Luck be a Lady Tonight,' Frank Sinatra fans can almost hear Ol' Blue Eyes himself.
English, 56, a professional entertainer known as 'The Voice,' performs programs of Sinatra songs for audiences all over the Portland area and beyond. Indeed, he sings in a baritone that sounds a lot like the Chairman of the Board himself. But he's not Sinatra, and he's not trying to be, he says.
'My program is a tribute to Sinatra spanning five decades,' says English, who has loved Sinatra's music since he was a kid.
English, who lives in Aloha, was never really into rock music - 'I listened to a lot of my grandfather's records,' he says.
He's been singing Sinatra songs for audiences since he was 19. In the mid-1990s he also sang in the Portland Opera Chorus. He sold advertising for a living until he got so busy with his Sinatra tribute show that he went full-time with it. 'I stay busy four nights a week,' he says.
For the past three years he's performed at 'Tuesdays with Sinatra,' an evening reception for guests at the Clarion Hotel at Portland International Airport. And for eight years or so he's been part of the entertainment lineup at Portland International Airport, singing every Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the airport's ABC Lobby.
In between he's in demand at private functions - weddings, fundraisers, shows at senior centers and out-of-town gigs in Las Vegas, Reno, San Francisco, Seattle and Alaska. He performs at benefits for the Boys and Girls Club, played at television anchor Kelley Day's wedding a couple of years ago and sang at the 2011 Festa Italiana Portland in August.
'The one thing I'm finding out is Sinatra really crosses all barriers,' English says. 'I've been doing weddings for couples in their 20s.'
He lands many gigs by referral. 'Several people have come up to me during breaks and say, 'Hey, you did our wedding, or 'Hey, I heard you at the fair,'' he says, adding he prefers to do business in person or by phone rather than email ('I'm not that much of a techy person').
Most of his corporate business comes from the airport, where travelers see him perform. One of his recent shows at PDX drew the attention of actor Timothy Hutton, star of the TV show 'Leverage' (filmed in the Portland area).
'Tim is a huge Sinatra fan,' says English, who handed Hutton a business card.
Soon afterward, one of Hutton's people called English and asked him to play a gig near the 'Leverage' set in Clackamas, which he did. Then he performed at Hutton's birthday party in August at the new Trader Vic's in Portland's Pearl District.
'They could have anyone they want, and they call me,' he marvels.
At some gigs, such as 'Tuesdays with Sinatra' at the Clarion, English performs alone, using pre-recorded big band arrangements by studio musicians from New York.
When he needs live musicians for his shows, he calls Jack Quinby's Musical Services, a Dundee-based business, and Quinby lines up an eight-piece band for English.
'People think it's hard to make a living as an entertainer, but it's like anything else,' English says.
'People ask me how I'm doing in this recession, and I look at them and I go, 'What recession?' If you think there's a problem in the economy, there is one.'
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