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Crooner to perform Saturday in Portage: Tribute to ‘Chairman’ Sinatra’s era

March 26, 2019

Peter Oprisko says the best musicians double as ambassadors for complex music.

The Chicago crooner performs American pop standards on almost every day of a given year, including many days, he said, when the entertainment he provides takes a back seat to education.

“I’ve even had people ask me, ‘What’s a piano?’” Oprisko said of the more recent performances in his 20-year career. “I think the problem with a lot of today’s music is there’s no variety of chord structure.

“Everything on the radio, now, seems to be one or two chords.”

Oprisko will present “The Chairman’s Board” on Saturday at Portage Center for the Arts, sharing the hits and backstories of artists like Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole.

There’s value, Oprisko said, in remembering or discovering for the first time how different the world looked and sounded in America’s not-so-distant past.

Dusting off that world was his business even before Oprisko launched his career as a professional vocalist, when he hosted the nationally syndicated radio programs, “Exclusively Sinatra” and “Remember When” in the 1990s.

For the first program, Oprisko interviewed people closely associated with Sinatra, including Sinatra’s family, his songwriters and the members of his orchestras.

For “Remember When,” Oprisko featured the pop standards of musicians excluding Sinatra — like Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. The program also shared snippets of radio broadcasts from the 1940s and 1950s.

“My biggest takeaway was that these old songs still have life,” he said of the radio programs that each had more than 60 U.S. affiliates, including in the cities of New York, St. Louis and Denver.

“There’s a lot of mileage left in this music and I’m living proof of that.”

Oprisko will be joined on stage Saturday by his longtime pianist Dave Holloway, who explained how he’d grown up in the early 1980s listening to classic rock, funk and early hip-hop before falling in love with the music of Sinatra.

“Back then, music was much more organic and people took risks,” Halloway said. “There was so much creativity and thought put into the music.

“These big record companies don’t want to take risks anymore,” Halloway said of modern pop music. “(They) stick with a cheap formula, which makes everything sound the same. That’s not to say all music is like that now, but you really have to dig to find the gems.”

Oprisko — a voting member for the Grammy Awards — is sometimes “heartbroken” by the general lack of interest in music that he believes is “conducive to a broader range of emotions.”

He recalled how, a few years ago, he tried to bring his tribute show into Chicago Public Schools.

“They told me I had great credentials,” Oprisko said, “but they denied my application because they said there’s no interest in the schools in what I do.”

Oprisko and Halloway play music for many private engagements, including weddings, where the interest in old standards is not only clear, but quite uplifting, they said.

“Just think about the incredible success of Michael Buble,” Oprisko said, “and how his most recent album is all standards. Think about Tony Bennett and how he did his world tour with Lady Gaga.

“There’s still a market for this music, even though it’s not heavily promoted by the music industry, for whatever reason.

“I believe it will never go out of style.”