CATONSVILLE, MD -- Charlestown resident John Saint-Amour is a self-taught French Horn player who performed with bands that backed up a "Who's Who" list of legendary popular, classical and Broadway singers, musicians and entertainers.
He spends much of his time nowadays practicing and emulating the phrasing of Frank Sinatra's songs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFmE2L6bELc ) for an upcoming small ensemble performance at the retirement community.
"Sinatra's phrasing is a bit unique," said Saint-Amour, who first played the French Horn nearly eight decades ago in Addison Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where he grew up. "There are nuances and subtleties in his songs that musicians always try to copy."
Saint-Amour's 'six degrees of separation' with Sinatra dates to 1944 at Reliance Electric Company in Cleveland. He worked as a teenager at the company during WWII winding armatures for battleship power conversion.
In this night shift job he met and dated a woman ten years his senior who would attend a Sinatra concert in which conductor/arranger Axel Stordahl told the audience he was seeking a French Horn player to join the band.
Saint-Amour considered auditioning, but decided against it. "I did the typical male thing and, in effect, said '"I'll find my own job in music,'" he said.
Stordahl and Sinatra went on their ways – and Saint-Amour went on his. "I never think of what might have been," he said. "I never look back."
Saint-Amour a year later joined the Ray Anthony Band and traveled the nation with this band, as well as with the Elliot Lawrence Band, playing some of the best venues at the time, including New York's Paramount Theater on Broadway, the Meadowbrook Club in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and the Palladium in Hollywood, California. During this period Saint-Amour backed up the Mills Brothers and other Top 40 singers.
During a gig in Las Vegas Dean Martin served as a celebrity blackjack dealer in a casino and dealt cards to Saint-Amour. "He kept dealing the winning cards to a lady sitting next to me at the table," said Saint-Amour. "Just my luck, huh?"
Saint-Amour later joined the Worcester, Massachusetts, Symphony Orchestra with which he played The Centrum and Mechanic Hall. As a member of this orchestra he backed up Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti.
He also backed up Broadway stars such as Linda Eder of the Tony Award-winning musical "Jekyll & Hyde." In addition, he backed up the Smothers Brothers and Engelbert Humperdinck.
His love of music has gone beyond stage performance. His Charlestown apartment home's walls are adorned with five hunting horns that he made from used school valve horns he purchased on eBay. He cut the valves out and tied each of the horns individually together with other tubing.
"I made them into valve-less horns in the keys of C, D and B-Flat," said Saint-Amour, who has five children and seven grandchildren. "These particular horns have enchanting sounds unlike any other."
It is the distinctive sound of Sinatra's music, however, that often calls out to Saint-Amour in the wee small hours of the morning. He is especially fond of Sinatra's ballads.
"Sinatra was a complex person who had his share of heartbreak," said Saint-Amour. "His ballads are lonely and sad, and he sings them from a place deep within his soul. They are exquisite."