Jersey boy Frankie Valli returns to the Garden State on November 11 for a show with the Four Seasons at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). The 88-year-old singer, who was born and bred in Newark but these days resides in California, is best known for such hits as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2010. Valli recently spoke with us about his brushes with fellow NJ native Frank Sinatra, his latest album of jazz standards and more.
When you were seven, your mom took you to Manhattan’s Paramount Theatre to see another Frankie from New Jersey: Frank Sinatra. You’ve said it was at that concert that you decided you wanted to become a professional singer. Was your Newark household a musical one?
Well, not so much; not professionally. But my mom always sang around the house when she was cooking or doing chores.
You’ve spoken about how jazz was your first love.
I had to be careful when I played jazz records or listened to jazz music on the radio, because my dad was born to classical music.
Did you ever get to meet Sinatra?
Yes, I did, and it was a strange way to meet him. I met him through his mom. [She] was doing an affair for a Catholic organization for the blind, and [the Four Seasons] played the date and did it for free. [Sinatra] found out about it and made it his business to get in touch with me. We became friends after that.
You released your first jazz album, A Touch Of Jazz, last June. As such a big fan of that genre, how did you end up selecting the nine-song track list?
They are songs that I grew up listening to, and most of them are standards—songs that I did when I was working in saloons and small clubs. Before there were any hits, all singers relied upon the songs that were standards, that everybody else was doing.
You’re a producer on an upcoming streaming adaptation of the Jersey Boys musical, in which fellow New Jerseyan Nick Jonas is portraying you. Did you end up visiting the set in Cleveland last year?
I did visit—briefly, passing through in my working period. I had a day or two off, and I stopped by and was quite amazed. He’s an incredibly talented performer.
I read somewhere that you love singing in the shower. So many of your hits strike me as kind of quintessential sing-in-the-shower songs for the average person, which got me wondering: What would Frankie Valli sing in the shower? His own hits? Whatever’s stuck in his head? Jazz standards?
[Laughs.] Sometimes I just start out doing scales, and then I might drift off after a little bit and start singing a song. In most cases, it’s a standard.
When you return to Jersey to perform, are there any essential old haunts or restaurants that you try to visit?
Well, it’s changed quite a bit from when I was a kid growing up. But there is a restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue [in Belleville] called the Belmont Tavern, and it’s probably one of the best Italian restaurants in the area. They make a dish called chicken Savoy that you must taste.
Any parting thoughts before your November show at NJPAC?
I’m excited to play in Newark, since that’s where I grew up and went to school. It’s gonna be very exciting. I’ll probably walk through the downtown area just to reminisce a bit.