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Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back…Sort Of

CFA student channels Frank Sinatra, his way

| From BU Today | By John O’Rourke. Video by Devin Hahn
Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, Jesse Garlick (CFA’14) performs his Sinatra act and talks about what intrigues him about the legendary singer. Photos by Cydney Scott

Jesse Garlick bears little physical resemblance to Frank Sinatra. With his untucked shirt, rolled-up sleeves, and sneakers, neither does his appearance have any of the great singer’s famously elegant style. And for the record, Garlick’s eyes are brown, not the famous azure that earned his hero the nickname “Ol’ blue eyes.”

But when Garlick (CFA’14) launches into “Come Fly with Me,” one of Sinatra’s signature classics, during a performance at the Waban Health and Rehabilitation Center in Newton, his timbre and phrasing are unmistakably reminiscent of the iconic crooner.

Now 20, Garlick was introduced to Sinatra’s music by his grandmother (and most ardent fan) Anita when he was just 5. “She’d put on ‘New York, New York’ and ‘My Way,’ so growing up I always had those songs going through my head,” Garlick recalls. Even as a child, he was drawn not only to Sinatra’s music, he says, but to his swaggering persona. “There’s nobody else whose voice sounds like that. It’s such a New York voice. It’s the voice of a brash, young New York gangster. That’s what I wanted to be, growing up—one of the head honchos of the city.”

What separates Garlick from his contemporaries isn’t just his infatuation with a singer many of his peers have never heard of, but the audience he shares that infatuation with. After years of entertaining his grandmother with renditions of Sinatra standards, he heeded her suggestion to put an act together. “She had this idea that I should go around to other people her age and give them the gift I’d given her, “ he says. “Because she got such a kick out of it.”

Jesse Garlick performs for an audience at Waban Health and Rehabilitation Center in Newton, Mass.

Garlick began performing as a high school junior, mostly at Boston area senior citizen centers, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. He estimates that he’s performed between 50 and 60 shows, almost all of them for free. He says what really motivates him is a desire to give back to the men and women who have been described as “the greatest generation,” those who lived through the Depression and fought in the Second World War. “At the time these people were becoming adults, it was the most tumultuous time in history, with World War II,” notes Garlick. “I’ve always held the seniors around me in such high regard. They have so much to offer. I just appreciate them so much.”

So, on a weekday afternoon, Garlick finds himself in a brightly lit room standing before a small audience of elderly, mostly frail patients, many of whom appear to have some form of dementia. Garlick is unfazed, and as he segues smoothly from “Come Fly with Me” to “All the Way,” “Young at Heart,” and “The Lady Is a Tramp”—all immortalized by Sinatra—the audience seems to connect to the singer. His performance elicits shouts and cheers from some, and broad smiles of recognition from others. By the end of his hour-long show, nearly every person in the audience is engaged.

“Music is the tool that can reach out to people and touch them in ways normal conversation can’t,” Garlick says after the performance. “Music has that ability to unlock emotion and free people and put them in a different mind-set, a different world.”

Between each number, the acting major engages in easy banter with his audience, describing himself as “just a little old actor from New York trying to find my way.” When he asks them (as he does at each performance) to share their memories of Sinatra, the stories of seeing the legend in person come thick and fast.

Gertrude Creedon Broderick, now in her 80s and recovering from a recent fall, vividly recounts seeing Sinatra during the 1940s. The former school supervisor describes young women “running in to ooh and ah and scream” during Sinatra’s performance. Afterward, she pronounces Garlick’s show “superb” and “top-notch.”

Garlick’s father, Jonathan, and his grandmother Anita frequently accompany him to his performances.

Garlick comes to performing naturally. His maternal grandmother was a noted actress in South Africa, and his paternal grandfather performed in a band. His grandmother Anita frequently performs with him (they have been known to team up on Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young”).

And then there is Garlick’s father, Jonathan, a professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, who acts as his son’s “roadie,” setting up audio equipment at each venue. A stem cell and cancer researcher, Jonathan uses rap to teach students medicine. Operating under the rap nickname Dr. Jonny Cool J, one of his songs became a viral sensation on YouTube in 2010.

The younger Garlick says performing Sinatra’s music for elderly audiences has been life-changing. “I think it’s made me more mature. I think it’s made me more understanding of what happens when we get older,” he says. “I used to be so afraid of getting old, but now I realize that’s equally wonderful because you get to share your experiences with a younger generation; you continually pass that down the line.”

Sage advice from a man determined to look back on his own life one day and say, “I did it my way.”

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