Live Jazz: Mike Melvoin & Theresa Russell at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

Theresa Russell of “Bad Timing” was the dame I worshiped until Anne Parillaud of “La Femme Nikita” took over.

Theresa Russell

So you couldn’t have kept me away from Vitello’s Friday when Russell began her new career as a torch singer. Sure enough, she resumed her place on my altar.

“Stupid thing to take up when you’re 50,” Russell said. She was apologizing, in her side-of-the-mouth way, for some little miscue in announcing the next song, which was written by her friend, the great pianist Mike Melvoin.

Mike Melvoin

This was a pretty little ditty that the veteran movie actress got right into, just like the other two Melvoin songs she sang while he played.

You couldn’t pull much better from the backup pool than Melvoin, who began performing  this role with vocalists such as Bill Henderson and Tom Waits after breaking on recordings with Joe Williams and Peggy Lee.

He got an authoritative and hard-swinging sound in a couple of opening instrumentals, backed by Tony Dumas and Ralph Penland on bass and drums, and he closed the set with a flowing, satisfying tribute to Count Basie.

The familiar pop ballads Russell brought out for the reasonably full house were reasonably convincing for a beginner. She has a husky and alluring voice with which she tenderized the brutally simplistic words of the pre-war popsters. The result was not always as moving as one would hope – but, hey, she was facing a very tough town.

And with only a touch of first night jitters, maybe a wonky phrase or  two, she felled them — and me.  In this, Russell was almost as accurate as Parillaud was when she took the rifle out of her bathtub in Venice to do her postprandial assassination.

Killers. My killers.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.

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