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Borrowing From Past, Living in the Present : Pop: Jack Jones had his biggest hit in 1963, but contemporary music is ‘where my head is.’ He performs tonight in Irvine.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Yes, he sings in the classic pop style of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and, yes, his biggest hit, “Wives and Lovers,” was done in 1963. Still, Jack Jones insists he’s no dinosaur.

“I would be if all I sang were old songs, but I do a lot of contemporary things in my act,” said Jones, 55. “In fact, I enjoy doing the contemporary things more than anything. That’s where my head is. I’m not someone who just wants to sing songs of the past, though I’m not going to go out and sing heavy metal.”

Jones, who appears tonight at the Barclay Theatre in Irvine, said his current repertoire includes tunes by John Lennon (“Imagine”), John Sebastian (“I Had a Dream”) and Richard Marx (“Right Here Waiting”) as well as pop classics by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn.

Jazz is also a part of a Jones performance.

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“I do ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ in a jazz vein, and Thad Jones’ ‘A Child Is Born,’ ” he said.

And Jones’ current release, “The Gershwin Album” on Columbia/Legacy, contains a jazz-oriented version of “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

But whether he does a standard written a half a century ago or a much more recent tune, the song must have meaning, Jones said.

“I want a song to make the audience laugh or make it cry, make a very poignant statement,” Jones said in a phone interview from his home in Palm Desert. “Like John Sebastian’s ‘I Had a Dream.’ The lyric starts, ‘I had a dream, I dreamed we were all all right.’ That’s such a wonderful thought that we need again today.”

Jones possesses a rich, appealing tenor-baritone voice and sings with a solid rhythmic sense. He achieved pop stardom in the ‘60s, when rock was king, and his style considered passe. His hit records include “Lollipops and Roses,” “Wives and Lovers,” “The Race Is On,” “Call Me Irresponsible” and “The Impossible Dream.” “Lollipops” won him a Best Male Solo Vocal Performance Grammy in 1961; “Wives,” which reached No. 14 on the Billboard Magazine pop charts, earned him another in 1963. Later, he reached millions of listeners when he sang the theme on the TV show, “The Love Boat.”

Since the ‘60s, he’s kept quite active as a performer, but there have been no big records, which could indicated his best years are behind him.

“Nobody likes to think that,” said Jones, who tours consistently, working at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe, Reno and Atlantic City about twice a year, and appearing in Europe annually. “I feel things are looking better all the time. There’s a whole world out there that Mel Torme pleases, that Tony Bennett pleases, that I please. We’re not playing stadiums but we’re doing great. Besides, when we had our initial successes, there were no stadiums to play.”

*

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Jones said he was happy to record “The Gershwin Album,” which was completed last year and released in April. But some of the songs, he said, didn’t feel very up to date.

“On ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You,’ that line is followed by the words ‘Sweetie Pie,’ ” Jones said. “Well, I didn’t want to sing them, so I just let my musical director, Matt Catingub, play the phrase. It turned out to be an interesting duet.”

“Embraceable You” also presented some lyrical problems, and Jones got permission from the Gershwin estate to alter a line.

“I didn’t want to sing the phrase, ‘Don’t be a naughty baby, come to papa, come to papa, do,’ so I wrote a new one,” the singer said. “Now the way I do it goes, ‘Don’t be a naughty baby, come to me and make my dreams come true.’ Brilliant, right?” he laughed, self-effacingly. “But it sufficed and took the edge off, and I thank the estate.”

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Jones is the son of screen star Allan Jones, who played the male lead in “Show Boat” in 1936 and other films, and actress Irene Hervey. He said his career didn’t really take off until he did “Wives and Lovers,” which almost didn’t become a hit.

“The people at Kapp Records, for whom I was recording then, put the tune on the B side of the single, but disc jockeys turned it over and played it anyway.”

The song, however has also gotten Jones into trouble with feminists. The opening line to that Burt Bacharach song goes, “Hey little girl, do your hair, fix your makeup.” Jones now offers an alternative lyric: “Hey, little boy, cap your teeth, fix your hairpiece.”

“Since it’s a politically incorrect song, I start it out with a disclaimer,” he said, then later sings the new lyrics. But it’s too no avail.

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“I hear that women still call up radio stations, angry that such a sexist song is being played,” he said. “It’s now part of history, it won a Grammy, and I meant no harm when I did it. It made my career and I’m grateful for that.”

* Jack Jones sings at 8 p.m. Friday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive. $32. Information: (714) 854-4646.


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