Growing into Frank Sinatra: Matt Mauser brings tribute to Big Cork Vineyards
As a kid, it wasn’t that big of a deal to Matt Mauser that his grandfather knew Frank Sinatra. Mauser’s grandfather was a successful bit actor for TV and film and he knew a lot of people.
Mauser’s aunt was a concert pianist who played at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and his great grandmother was a pianist who performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The long line of piano players in his family is said to have descended from Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. Connection to famous people was Mauser’s normal.
Still, Mauser became somewhat smitten by Frank Sinatra around the time that the singer, actor and producer, who remains one of the best-selling music artists of all time, passed away in 1998. His elder family members had always been fans and he grew up hearing Sinatra’s music, so Mauser went out and bought a couple albums for himself.
“I didn’t understand what the big deal was with Sinatra. It wasn’t until I was older, in my 20s, that I appreciated him as an entertainer, a musician and a singer,” he said. “Then I memorized every song. I got the music. I got the phrasing. Stylistically, it was right in my wheelhouse. Vocally, I am kind of a baritone, like Frank. I got it. I could just do it.”
Today, Mauser performs as vocalist for Southern California-based Sinatra Tribute Band, which captures Sinatra at the height of his career when he was singing with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Matt Mauser and the Sinatra Tribute Band will perform Saturday, July 27, at 7 p.m. at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville. The event is part of a Summer Concert Series presented by The Maryland Theatre and Big Cork Vineyards. It will take place rain or shine. Ticket holders are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.
‘Connecting with people under the umbrella of Frank Sinatra’
Mauser, who spoke with a Herald-Mail reporter by phone while on tour, said he does not impersonate Sinatra; instead, he sings Sinatra’s songs and tells stories. One of those stories entails Mauser’s grandfather, Patrick Hawley, asking Sinatra for some help “getting in the door.”
“Believe it or not, he propositioned Frank at The Knickerbocker hotel. Frank helped him get into show biz. He took care of him. He was that kind of guy,” Mauser said.
Hawley went on to act in films including the 1969 Western musical “Paint Your Wagon” starring Clint Eastwood, as well as TV shows “Bonanza” and “The Big Valley” starring Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors and Linda Evans.
Though Mauser never met Sinatra himself, he spent decades listening to his grandfather’s stories about him and other show biz greats including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tom Jones.
Hawley had a stroke in 1978 when he was 58 years old.
“He spent the rest of his life telling us stories by the TV. I sat and listened for a good 20 years,” Mauser said.
When he performs with the tribute band, rather than pose as Sinatra, he parlays these stories.
“I don’t want to come out with a cigarette and slicked down hair. I’m more of a teacher. That’s my background,” Mauser said. “More than just doing an imitation of Frank Sinatra, I’m enlightening the audience with stories, connecting with people under the umbrella of Frank Sinatra.”
‘You sound just like Sinatra’
Mauser hasn’t spent his whole career as a Sinatra tribute artist. After growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., he went on to become an educator teaching Spanish.
“I was a school teacher for 20 years until I figured out that singing paid better,” he said. “I didn’t really have to make a transition. Life kind of made it for me.”
The 49-year-old is lead singer of the Orange County, Calif.-based band The Tijuana Dogs, which plays a full schedule of parties, private events and concert venues.
“It’s a hard-working band with a good following. On occasion, people asked us to do weddings,” Mauser said. “When you do a wedding, you have to do a dinner set and you can’t be playing rock ‘n roll, so you go back to some older music, some standards.”
Mauser already was intimately familiar with the songs of Sinatra, and the band began to perform them as part of their repertoire.
“People would say, ‘You sound just like Sinatra,’” Mauser said.
Tijuana Dogs guitar player Dave Murdy introduced Mauser to conductor and pianist Pete Jacobs, with whom Murdy played in another band. During 2011, Mauser approached Jacobs with the idea of a Sinatra tribute band and Jacobs responded, “Let’s do it.”
The Tijuana Dogs continued to thrive, and the Sinatra Tribute Band took off with Mauser providing vocals and with Jacobs at the helm of the big band of roughly a dozen musicians.
“I was working so much teaching and playing that I couldn’t balance both lives. I would need to take weeks off school to travel. The universe spoke and I just had to listen,” Mauser said.
Mauser quit teaching and continues to work with both bands as a fruitful livelihood.
The voice and the persona
Mauser attributes the success of the tribute band in part to Sinatra’s persona and talent, both of which continue to appeal to people over time.
Sinatra’s voice, he said, is “timeless, a very masculine voice.”
“It’s warm, inviting. He’s not doing all these runs and riffs. He is speaking to you like a man would speak. To me, Frank Sinatra is being male and everything positive about being a male.”
People underestimate “just how good of a musician Frank was,” Mauser said.
“His phrasing was unbelievable. He was truly a great musician. He heard things. He studied,” he said. “He was like the Michael Jordan of vocalists.”
Sinatra also had swagger.
“Frank displayed a lot of confidence. He had that very Italian, bigger than life bravado,” he said. “But underneath, he was kind, he was creative, he was a bit vulnerable, I think, and people can relate to that.”
Among Mauser’s favorite Sinatra songs to perform are “Call Me Irresponsible,” which he said “makes you feel like (Sinatra) is there in the room with you.” Another of his top picks is “One for My Baby, (and One More for the Road).”
“That’s a very powerful song. And my grandfather is in that video with (Sinatra),” Mauser said. “Frank’s got that trench coat on, the hat, he’s smoking a cigarette. There is a sign that says ‘bar’. You look at that bartender there. That’s my grandfather, Pat Hawley.”
People who attend the concert at Big Cork should expect the unexpected, Mauser said.
“I’ll be moving, dancing, you know. It’s a little bit more of a variety show,” he said. “I will come out singing some Sinatra, but they will get a variety of other artists. We are going to make sure they have a great time.”