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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tony DeSare is sometimes called a direct musical descendant of Frank Sinatra - the timing, the phrasing, the material. But he covers the classics with his own brown-eyed style.

(Soundbite of song, "Can't Take That Away From Me")

Mr. TONY DESARE (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that, oh no, they can't take that away from me. The way your smile just beams...

SIMON: His new album, "Last First Kiss," is just out. Tony DeSare joins us from our studios in New York.

Mr. DeSare, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DESARE: Oh, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what makes you a hold up one line and rush ahead with the other?

Mr. DESARE: It's just how I'm feeling at the time. People always say it's hard to sing along with me because I never sing anything the same way twice. One of the keys to this genre that I love so much is being able to be very creative with the phrasing as you go.

SIMON: Wonder if I can get you to tell the story. It seems to me I've read this in a couple of different places. You were, what, 14 when you first encountered the music of Frank Sinatra. Now you have a collection of 125 CDs?

Mr. DESARE: My mom got just a little cassette tape, one of those like 5.99 Frank Sinatra gold; it was the best of the Capitol years. Up to that time, I thought of Frank Sinatra only as, you know, the old man in the black tux singing "New York, New York." And though I liked it, I never really related to it. But I put this tape in before I went to bed and - just to see what it was all about - and it was all these great songs from the Capitol years - you know "Lady is a Tramp," "I Get a Kick Out of Young," "Young at Heart," "I've Got You Under My Skin" - and I felt like I discovered my music, because I'd never heard any of those before.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) You don't have to be beautiful to turn me on...

SIMON: Your album starts with the - let's put it this way - a daring and interesting choice. You do your version of the Prince hit "Kiss."

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) You can't be too flirty, mama. I know how to undress me. I want to be your fantasy, and maybe you could be mine.

SIMON: Talk about unexpected.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESARE: Yeah, you know, when I first had the idea to do it, I was here in New York and out with some friends. And the place we were at was playing a bunch of '80s hits and the song came on. And I was thinking to myself, what a great actual song it is, you know. Forget, you know, Prince's great beat and his, you know, unique vocals and all that. But you know, just the melody and lyric of it is really interesting.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) ...have a good time. You don't have to be rich to be my girl. You don't have to be cool to rule my world. Ain't no particular side I'm more compatible with; I just want your extra time and your kiss.

Mr. DESARE: I started playing around with the idea of just completely reinventing the song. And when I first told a few people that I wanted to do it, of course they thought it was an awful idea. But then as soon as it came, it all came together, it turned out to be one of the standouts of the whole project.

SIMON: Any idea if Prince has heard it?

Mr. DESARE: Well, I don't think he's heard it yet. I hope that he does at some point. And I hope also that he likes it.

SIMON: Given your method and your approach, have you ever - is there a song that you heard and liked and wanted to do but just haven't been able to find a way to make it yours?

Mr. DESARE: Sure. In choosing material I'm really - I have strong feelings about having to record a song for a reason. Either I have to be able to bring something completely new to it - you know, like Prince's "Kiss" - I mean there's no way to compete with Prince's version, so just go 180-degrees opposite way and come up with something. That's one way. Or I have to feel like I can really just make it my own. And there are songs that have been done and recorded so well that why do they need to be touched? You know, something like "Fly Me to the Moon." You know, why re-record that? There's nothing I could add.

SIMON: You couldn't add to the Sinatra version.

Mr. DESARE: Well, it's not just the Frank Sinatra version. You know, Tony Bennett closes his shows a capella with it and it's great. And there's the bossa version. So I'd have to be able to be at that level with that song, and maybe some day, but not right now.

SIMON: I want to talk about your songs. Let's listen to one of yours. This is the song "Let's Just Stay In."

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Just Stay In")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) Baby, tonight your plan is in sight and I know exactly what to do. Take off your shoes. Turn down the lights. Let me hold you like it's a simpler time. Tonight it's all I want to do. So let it begin. Let's just stay in.

SIMON: Mr. DeSare?

Mr. DESARE: Yes.

SIMON: Anyone ever come up to and say I want to thank you for what your music has done for my life, specifically last Tuesday?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESARE: You know, actually, it has happened. Well, not specifically last Tuesday. But, yes. And it's nice. It's flattering.

SIMON: Nice to be responsible, or at least to have an implied responsibility in so many happy relationships.

Mr. DESARE: It is. And you know, hopefully there's more of that to come. We'll see.

SIMON: How many songs do you write? And is it hard to include your own material when they're on the same, you know, on the same bill in an album like this, as with Carol King and Cole Porter and Harold Arlen?

Mr. DESARE: I tend not to write a lot of songs. Some people write tons and tons of songs. And you know, they'll write 200 songs and take the best 15 or 20 to work on. And I tend to write, you know, I know what I want to do. It forces me to make them as good as I possibly can, because my goal is to have people wonder if I wrote it, because it sounds like it could be written by one of them.

SIMON: Let me get you to tell us about your version you do of what we think of as the Lena Horne song, "Come On Strong."

(Soundbite of song, "Come On Strong")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) I want to feel my skin start shining, like I've been hit by a bolt of lighting. Bring a guitar to strum on, even a drum to drum on. And if you're going to come on, yeah, if you're going to come on, if you're going to come on, come on strong.

SIMON: That's a great version. So you were - you were shopping on the iTunes store? What happened?

Mr. DESARE: Yeah, well, I just went to a cabaret show and saw someone sing "Come Running," which is a Lena Horne song. And I got home and couldn't remember exactly what the title was, and was searching on iTunes and came across "Come On Strong," which I sampled and just absolutely loved and couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it. So I kind of put it in the back of my head as something that I wanted to approach for this next CD. And then, you know, I had the hardest time finding the right angle for it. Because if you have the Lena Horne version, the chord changes and everything are quite different than what I ended up doing. It just - the melody is very challenging.

But Ted Firth and I - who did the Horne arrangement - came up with this way to just kind of make it a little more stormy. You know, a little more sexy to fit my voice. And I loved the way it came out.

SIMON: Looking at your liner notes, you have a thanks to Joe Piscopo.

Mr. DESARE: When I was getting started in New York and I was playing, you know, hotels and piano bars and parties and things like that, Joe found me one night at a piano bar. And you know, of course everyone knows he's a big fan of this music and Frank Sinatra. And...

SIMON: So he used to do the ranking impersonation of Frank Sinatra.

Mr. DESARE: Yeah, and the only - I think the only Sinatra approved impersonation. But he really loved my style and the way I played. So he actually started hiring me to play for his shows, which is a variety, comedy and music show. And we just became really close over the years and, you know, good friends. And he helps me out whenever he can. So you know, it's only natural to thank him.

SIMON: Yeah. You've got a big engagement coming up in March.

Mr. DESARE: Yes. I'm really excited. I'm going to have my first two-week run at the Algonquin Hotel, the Oak Room. For someone that does what I do, it's one of those milestones in your career and your life. So it's - yeah, it's a big deal.

SIMON: Is there a song from this new CD that you'd like to go out on?

Mr. DESARE: Well, you know, I really love the version that we came up with for "There Will Never Be Another You," which has a great tenor sax solo from Harry Allen. It's normally done as kind of an up-tempo swing number, and I also do the little-known verse up front that I almost never hear.

(Singing) This is our last dance together. Tonight soon will be long ago. So in our moment of parting, this is all I want you to know.

(Soundbite of song, "There Will Never Be Another You")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) There will be many other nights like this...

SIMON: Very nice talking to you.

Mr. DESARE: Likewise, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Tony DeSare. His new album is "Last First Kiss." Speaking with us from our studios in New York.

(Soundbite of song, "There Will Never Be Another You")

Mr. DESARE: (Singing) There will be other songs to sing, another fall, another spring. But there will never be another you. There will be other lips that I may kiss, but they won't thrill me like yours...

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