Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
June 14, 2009
There is not a 21-year-old alive who has spent more time in saloons, nightclubs and show lounges than Dakota Horvath and, remarkably, he seems none the worse for the wee-hour wear.
He recently returned from Las Vegas, where he performed "The Songs of Bobby Darin" in the showroom at the South Point Casino on the Strip, and immediately popped into a West Loop recording studio to put the finishing touches on his new CD. Still relatively unknown, he is a singer of great talent and serious ambitions."There's a lot I want to do with my music," he says. "It really is my life. I was surrounded by it from the time I can first remember. I was singing when I was 2."
His parents played music in the Northwest Side house in which he grew up as one of three kids, and his grandfather had been a bass player at the legendary Chez Paree nightclub in the 1930s and 1940s.
His hero forever has been Frank Sinatra. Horvath's first public performance took place when he was 5, at a Miami club. He sang "My Way."
With his father as his manager, Horvath subsequently built a resume bursting with big names with whom he has shared a stage ( Don Rickles, Natalie Cole, Trisha Yearwood, Tony Bennett), nearly 80 television appearances and such high-profile gigs as singing at the 2000 wedding of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
For most of these events he was viewed more as novelty than talent: Oh, look, a little kid doing Sinatra!
He was OK with this for a time. He was a kid, doing other kid things such as going to high school at Luther North and competing in the Golden Gloves. But he also began sneaking into such places as Lonie Walker's Underground Wonderbar and other local clubs.
"I just wanted to listen," he says. "And most of the owners indulged me."
Like any other young performer, he was a sponge. In addition to Sinatra, he cites as influences a crowd that includes Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday, Sting, Gino Vanelli and Chicago's own Kurt Elling.
"I really started to get serious about having a career when I was about 15," he says. "To be really honest, I was not a big fan of school."
He has been playing around town, at such places as the Supper Club in the Seneca Hotel, Philander's in Oak Park, Andy's Jazz Club and Katerina's, good and respected venues all. (He will be in conversation with me and singing at Maxim's on June 24; see maximschicago.org.)
He writes an increasing amount of original material, reckons that he might retire from performing in 15 years and perhaps then direct and write scores for films. He might open a nightclub, which he would call Dakota's. First things first, though. He wants his own place. He is still living with his folks.