By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee drew the curtain on the first great chapter in the story of West Haven on Dec. 12 with a free concert paying tribute to the Chairman of the Board — the one and only Frank Sinatra.
The show, performed by American Swingtime Featuring the Echoes of Sinatra Orchestra, was the swan song of the community’s 100th anniversary festivities, a six-month series of free events commemorating West Haven’s 1921 birth and its incorporation by the General Assembly as Connecticut’s youngest municipality.
The five-piece EOS Orchestra, fronted by Sinatra tribute artist Steve Kaz, traced the career and life of Ol’ Blue Eyes through music and storytelling in West Haven High School’s brand-new, state-of-the-art auditorium.
Kaz was accompanied by drummer Tony Traina, saxophonist Keith Gurland, trumpeter Larry Nissman, trombonist Howard Levy and keyboardist Christian Martirano, the quintet’s music director.
For nearly two hours, Kaz entertained the audience with fascinating stories of Sinatra, playful banter with the orchestra, and spot-on swing renditions of the Sinatra hits you know by heart, including “Come Fly With Me,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Witchcraft,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Fly Me to the Moon” — the first song NASA played in space, Kaz noted.
Other fan favorites included “Luck Be a Lady,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Summer Wind,” one of Sinatra’s most-requested songs, Kaz said.
The concert finale joined an impressive list of special events planned by the centennial committee — a grassroots group of city officials, first responders and civic leaders led by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, the honorary chairwoman, and city Human Resources Commissioner Beth A. Sabo, the chairwoman.
The events observed West Haven’s secession from Orange a century ago, including the Centennial Boat Parade in June, the Centennial Savin Rock Festival in July, the Centennial Fireworks and the “Hubbard Farms” exhibit in September, and the Centennial Fire Expo and the “100 Years of Veterans” exhibit in November. The rural and residential sections of Orange separated in 1921 when the residential part, West Haven, became the state’s youngest town.
The afternoon show featured Kaz crooning big-band standards from Sinatra’s tenure with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey and selections from the Great American Songbook, as well as the holiday classic “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” sprinkled in for good measure — much to the delight of a brood of children seated in the sixth row.
Before an electrifying drum solo by Traina, the EOS Orchestra closed the concert with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Mac the Knife” and “My Way,” which Kaz dedicated to Sinatra on what would have been the icon’s 106th birthday. The show culminated with the anthem “New York, New York,” followed by a standing ovation from the audience.
The inaugural chapter in West Haven’s annals spanned most of the 20th century before crossing the third millennium into a new frontier in the 21st century, chronicling the first 100 years of West Haven’s existence as a town — a community that has shaped and has been shaped by history.
“Congratulations to all residents on our first century of terrific accomplishment,” Rossi said. “And thank you to the members of the City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee, especially Chairwoman Beth Sabo, for organizing so many wonderful events to mark West Haven’s birthday.”
Before the concert, Sabo sold copies of the new centennial book, “City of West Haven: Village to Town,” along with centennial coins, lapel pins and WestHavenOpoly, the centennial version of the board game Monopoly.
All book and merchandise proceeds generated by the committee will offset expenses and support the $50,000 centennial budget approved by the City Council, Sabo said.
For other centennial merchandise, visit the official online store at https://merchwebstores.com/West-Haven-Centennial/shop/home.
The store, hosted by West Haven vendor West Shore Associates, sells such centennial-branded merchandise as long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, stainless steel tumblers, stemless wine glasses, insulated beverage bottles, ceramic mugs, retro sunglasses, canvas and cotton tote bags, eco-performance face masks, and pigment-dyed twill and mesh trucker caps.
A portion of the vendor’s merchandise proceeds will support the centennial account, Sabo said.
Watch the full concert on West Haven YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXIAo7TE4ZQ.