Live Jazz: Sue Raney at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sue Raney was at it again last night at Vitello’s, offering a pre-New Year’s Eve seminar in jazz singing.  And, yes, I know the word “seminar” has an academic inference that doesn’t really capture the full quality of her performance.  But there was no denying the effectiveness of Raney’s demonstrations of how to bring a far-ranging variety of songs fully to life.

Singing with the prime accompaniment of pianist Tom Ranier’s trio, with bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker, she offered a program overflowing with classic songbook items, seasoned with a few rarely heard songs.  Over the course of her twenty or so selections, she chose songs rich with emotions, both romantic and otherwise, that favored her stylistic blend of expressive feelings and lyrical phrasing.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

There were many musical highpoints, beginning with the Ranier trio playing a briskly swinging “If I Were A Bell,” before Raney embarked on her evening’s fascinating musical journey.  Along the way, she spent time with one classic after another: “Here’s To Life,” “Some Other Time,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (both done in unexpectedly rhythmic renderings), “It Could Happen To You” and, appropriately, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Add to that the less often heard but no less appealing “Emily,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You,” “Time Was” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Occasionally, Raney combined pairs of songs with similar subjects into medleys.  The pairing worked well with “Once Upon A Summertime” and “The Summer Knows,” in part because of Michel Legrand’s atmospheric melodies.   Another pairing – “When the World Was Young” and “Young and Foolish” – was a less successful blend of songs with very different lyrical and musical orientations.

There were more, but regardless of what Raney sang, it resonated with the qualities that have made her a classy performer since her first album When Your Lover Has Gone (produced by Nelson Riddle) was released in 1958: a warm, richly-timbred voice soaring freely over a good three or four octaves; articulate phrasing; communicative, lyrical story-telling; and a brisk sense of swing.

Not bad for a singer who turned 72 in June.  But Raney is still in prime creative form, with many songs and much music still to go.  Don’t miss her next appearance.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

 To read an iRoM review of a previous Sue Raney performance click HERE.

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