By Don Heckman
Believability is one of the most vital elements in the convincing singing of songs. And one that’s too often overlooked or forgotten — both by singers and by listeners. Believability, that is, in the sense that a song is a form of musical storytelling, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The way it is told is what differentiates the various forms of musical storytelling. But the importance of believability is beyond genre.
Carol Welsman’s performance at Vitello’s Wednesday night was a prime example. In her hour and a half set, she sang a diverse program of material: songs from I Like Men, her Peggy Lee tribute CD, songs by Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Cole Porter, blues songs, a classic by Charlie Chaplin and more. The range was broad enough to challenge the versatility of any singer, regardless of genre. And Welsman responded to the challenge superbly, as both a singer and a pianist, telling each song with storytelling believability and jazz authenticity.
Some examples: a tender reading of Jerome Kern’s “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”; a poignant version of Chaplin’s “Smile”; the intimate embrace of Porter’s “Do I Love You?”; the buoyant swing of “Why Don’t You Do Right,” “I Love Being Here With You” and a high voltage “Lover”; the rapid patter and vocalese of “Cottontail”; and the intensity of a rarely heard Jobim song, sung in Portuguese but, again, with complete emotional believability.
She was aided, in every respect, by the stunning playing of guitarist Pat Kelley, bassist Rene Camacho and drummer Jimmy Branley. It’s a collective that has worked together frequently. But this was far more than a singer-with-first-rate-backup. The combination of Welsman’s voice and piano with the symbiotic interplay of Kelley, Camacho and Branley was a complete musical entity. An entity that freed her to open the fullest resources of her extraordinary musicality. And do so with seeming ease.
Canadian-born Welsman, now a Los Angeles resident, has performed in venues reaching from Japan and Brazil to Europe, Canada and the U.S. She is, by any definition, a world class jazz artist. But she still hasn’t — from this listener’s perspective — received the full attention her impressive talents deserve. It’s time.