Matt Dusk got turned on to singing standards by learning something Frank Sinatra knew, and we're not talking about how to choose a song or craft a phrase.
He first noticed Sinatra while watching the animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which included a snippet of Ol' Blue Eyes singing Witchcraft. Dusk, 33, decide to give singing like Frank a try.
"When you're younger, it feels like this cheesy, old-people kind of music," Dusk says. "After a while, a friend of mine said, you really ought to try this because you're pretty good at it. So at school, they were having an evening of songs, I got up there and sang, and girls were fighting over my phone number."
He got a taste of the Sinatra experience, though he points out, "they weren't wearing bobby socks, exactly."
But Dusk was on his way to a career singing classic standards and jazz in the style of Sinatra, or, maybe in more recent years, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé.
We'll see if the ladies are clamoring for his phone number this weekend, when Dusk headlines this year's Picnic With the Pops concert, which for the third year will be at Keeneland's Meadow behind the Keene Barn and Entertainment Center.
Dusk sounds relieved when assured that alcohol is allowed in the venue, saying, "It's the type of event where you can grab a glass of wine and sit and enjoy these fantastic arrangements.
"I am a crooner, so I'll be singing the songs of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker. So, it's a collection of great American standards."
Picnic With the Pops is one of about 15 chances a year Dusk gets to perform with an orchestra. He plays about 150 dates a year with his nine-piece jazz group.
"Those shows are lively and punchy, where the orchestra shows are silky and smooth — music to make love to," he says.
There are several songs in Dusk's repertoire that he says lend themselves better to the orchestral format than the jazz combo setting, including tunes like Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's Come Rain or Come Shine, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn's All the Way, made famous by Sinatra and then a real gem in his catalog.
U2's Bono and The Edge wrote a song for Sinatra in 1992 called Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad. Sinatra never got to record it, but Dusk did,
"When my manager called me and told me I had a chance to record this, I said, 'Are you bleeping serious?'" Dusk says of getting hold of the superstar collaboration. "It is one of those songs that has a bottomless pit of feeling that changes over time as you grow.
"And it is great with that big, classic orchestra sound."
And that is the kind of sound Dusk brings to Lexington's annual late- summer, symphonic soiree: classic.