By Jan Mercker
Frank Lombardi grew up in 1960s Philadelphia with jazz standards flowing from the family record player. Now, he’s locally famous as Loudoun’s very own crooner, with his own stylish renditions of tunes made famous by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and other greats.
Lombardi kicks off 868 Estate Vineyards’ Music Under the Stars summer concert series May 18 with a Sinatra-centric program.
“I don’t call this an act because it isn’t,” Lombardi said. “This is a musical approach that I’ve developed over seven or eight years—to just follow the principles that Frank [Sinatra] and other crooners did to ensure that I bring integrity to the music.”
Lombardi loves them all, from Dean Martin to Michael Bublé, but Sinatra is the gold standard in his book, and his biggest musical influence since he turned from rock ‘n’ roll to the Great American Songbook just under a decade ago.
“I flavor my music with the stylings of some other folks, but at the core, my heart’s with Frank,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi is a former professional disc jockey turned government contractor who played in rock bands from his teen years through his 50s. Lombardi turned a musical corner eight years ago and began experimenting with the jazz standards of his youth.
“My dad was a huge Sinatra fan. He had virtually every album Frank had put out at the time. I listened to them constantly,” Lombardi said.
The collection of standards known as the Great American Songbook was also the background music to Sundays with his Italian grandmother, where Lombardi not only learned to cook but also fell in love with the music.
“On Sunday mornings, we would get up, go to church, and then the gravy went on and the meatballs were made. And in the background was the Italian-American music station at the time. It was a combination of songs in Italian and English and all the people who were famous back then,” Lombardi said. “I was sucking that in like a sponge. So it wasn’t really hard when I stopped playing rock ‘n’ roll—I gravitated back toward the crooner music. It just seemed like a fit. It felt good in my heart.”
After graduating from the American Academy of Broadcasting in Philadelphia, Lombardi worked as a DJ for a major market radio station, but when that company was sold in the late ’70s, Lombardi and his wife, Nancy, moved to Loudoun, where he launched a new career in industrial security with a government contractor.
Lombardi, who first took up the drums at age 6, played in rock bands for most of his life and continued to play classic rock in Northern Virginia for nearly two decades as the drummer and lead vocalist for the band Midlife Crisis. When band members decided to go their separate ways eight years ago, Lombardi felt a pull away from the rock tunes he’d been performing for decades and back to the crooners he grew up with.
Shifting gears to doing jazz standards as a solo artist has been a labor of love for Lombardi, who retired from his day job as a government contractor three years ago after 30 years in the industry.
“I’ve worked so hard to refine my approach to the music and my voice. … I’m just now coming into my own with the music,” Lombardi said. “First, I had to be sure I could sing it because I was a rock ‘n’ roll singer for my entire life. I had to retrain my voice. I learned the music. I learned the artists’ phrasing and then I applied my own styling to it. Sometimes I get clients who call me up and say, ‘Are you an impersonator?’ And I say, ‘Never in my life.’ I sing their music in my voice.”
Lombardi looked back to his DJ days in putting a solid and flowing song list together. After years of “relentless rehearsing,” he’s built up an impeccable and solid three-hour set. Lombardi does like to shake things up every now and then—but not without running new songs by Nancy, with whom he’ll be celebrating 40 years of marriage this year.
“My wife is my biggest fan and my biggest critic,” Lombardi said.
Nancy was a little skeptical when Lombardi initially suggested Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” into the mix, but when she heard her husband’s version, inspired by Sinatra’s take on the 1962 bossa nova classic, she gave it a thumbs up.
Lombardi started out small with a few performances at Leesburg’s monthly First Friday events and has since built up a following at restaurants, vineyards and private parties. Lombardi has a bi-monthly Thursday evening gig at Solo NY Pizza in Leesburg, where he’s cultivated a fan base from preschoolers to seniors. He’s a popular choice for weddings, milestone anniversaries, milestone birthdays and other gatherings. He’s still a regular at First Friday events in downtown Leesburg where he can usually be seen at Georgetown Café and is in demand every year for Valentine’s Day events around the county. The summer concert season is another high demand time, and the 868 Estate Vineyards show kicks things off this year.
For Lombardi, who embraces the emotional content of his material and loves engaging with audiences, it’s hard to pick a favorite song, but two of his tops are “Fly Me to the Moon” and “On a Clear Day.”
“I really don’t just do this to do it,” he said. “I do it with passion and with an end goal in mind and that is to influence as many people as I can to remember this music, draw from their memories and share it with someone else to preserve it.”
Frank Lombardi sings Sinatra at 868 Estate Vineyards’ inaugural Music Under the Stars concert of the season Saturday, May 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. 868 Estate Vineyards is located at 14001 Harpers Ferry Road, Hillsboro. For more information, go to 868estatevineyards.com.