Frank Hartman stands in his Mount Laurel living room and sings Sinatra.
No intro, no warm-up.
Just the voice.
I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'd be…
Even without the music, the tux, the stage he built himself, the theatrical lighting he brings to his shows or the loyal audiences he attracts, Hartman, 81, sure can cast a spell.
Something in his seasoned baritone suggests this guy's got stories to tell.
"I could write a book," he says. "I walked away from my dream. It was either my kids or show business, and I couldn't leave my kids."
The resulting 26-year break he took from a fledgling career ended in 1997, when he discovered a karaoke event at a diner somewhere on the White Horse Pike and "decided right there and then to sing again."
As for the cancer, diagnosed last year and now in remission: "Every other week I get a shot in the belly. I've had no side effects. I feel all right. And I've got two shows coming up."
Those would be "Sinatra Love Songs," set for Valentine's Day at Regal Caterers in Pennsauken, and "A Tribute to Sinatra" on Feb. 25 at Caffe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill. Hartman also has an hour-long weekly show at 10 p.m. Thursdays on WVLT-FM (Cruisin' 92.1) in Vineland, singing live to recorded instrumental tracks.
"There's very few people who sing live on the air, and he's one of the few who still do," station manager Carl Hemply says.
"At his age, it's remarkable, but he considers himself young. He gets quite a few phone requests, and the events he puts on live get a very good turnout. He has a following."
Hartman performs the Sinatra songbook exclusively. He does the easy crowd-pleasers, such as "My Way," but also somewhat less familiar numbers that can be trickier to sing, like "I Have Dreamed," from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein:
How you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
"People have told me I'm better than Sinatra. I don't believe that for a minute," he says. "Although it is nice to hear."
Hartman is not a Sinatra impersonator, but an interpreter. He shares what certain songs — often, the ones about romance, resiliency, regrets — have meant to him.
"You're just trying to get people to feel the way your feeling and what you're feeling," he says.
Hartman grew up in Philadelphia's blue-collar Port Richmond neighborhood a half-century or more before it got trendy. He sang in his house at 3124 Gaul St. and in school at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish.
"I took a few singing lessons, but I couldn't afford to keep going. Everything else I learned from Sinatra. He taught me about breathing, and tempo, and phrasing.
"I had 22 of his records, and I used to listen to them every day. I would listen to him even when I worked."
In 1957, Hartman opened his roofing business on Allegheny Avenue and met his future wife, Linda, the sister of a friend from the neighborhood. They married in 1964. started a family, and moved to South Jersey.
"What should I say?" Linda, who's as down to earth as her husband, says. "He's wonderful. The love of my life."
Hartman loaded his family into his red 1957 T-bird and headed to Florida in 1968, following a couple of successful gigs in Atlantic City and Philly. He landed some professional engagements, singing pop and big band tunes at venues including a Playboy Club and a pirate-themed amusement park, meanwhile supporting his family as a carpenter.
With a fourth child on the way, he decided to come back to Jersey in 1971. He didn't want to make the personal sacrifices necessary to make it big.
But after his karaoke experience, Hartman began to build the singing career he'd put on hold. He bought time on a local AM radio station and sang, approached the owners of venues, and promised to produce and promote the shows on his own.
"My first night performing again, at the Settlers Inn in Medford, I had the severest infected throat you could imagine. I didn't think I would get past the second song. But once I got in front of that audience, I sang for an hour and three quarters."
The house was packed, thanks in part to the fliers Hartman had designed — and distributed, often after working all day as a roofer.
He's still in that business, by the way.
"I never had an agent," he says. "I made a lot of mistakes."
But he did something right, too: Across South Jersey and Philly, in stylish restaurants, hotel lounges, homes for veterans, fraternal lodges, country clubs, coffee houses and theaters, including the Broadway in Pitman, Hartman has sung Sinatra for the last 20 years.
Forget age. Forget cancer.
"Singing is everything to me," Hartman says.