By Don Heckman
She was there on Saturday night, as well. But not for her usual routine of cruising the room to make sure everything’s working the way it should, while occasionally darting backstage to be certain that the performers are ready to go with everything they need.
That’s not to say that she didn’t do a few of those chores on Saturday, too. But her real focus was with the evening’s performers, who included pianist Alan Pasqua, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter Erskine.
Along with the featured singer: April Williams.
That’s right, April took a break from booking and supervising the music to have a little fun with something she loves to do: sing. She does so with a substantial background in musical theatre, and a weekly exposure to some of the Southland’s finest vocal artists in action.
But what quickly became apparent was the fact that April has a unique style of her own, based upon a quest to illuminate the story within every song she sings.
After her stellar musicians romped through a jaunty rendering of “How Much Do I Love You?” April began her set with an atmospheric take on “Love For Sale.” Followed by a sparkling arrangement of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.”
She sang “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” in harmonized phrasing with Sheppard’s soprano saxophone – accomplishing the demanding task while capturing the song’s tricky lyrics. Her jazz phrasing was front and center in the classic “Honeysuckle Rose,” which also featured a stunning, full-chorus solo from Erskine.
Another jazz classic, “Angel Eyes,” was on shakier ground. But April more than made up for it with a delightfully raucous “Don Juan” from the musical Smokey Joe’s Café. In the mood for more humor, she followed with a whimsical take on Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me A Grape.”
Still displaying her versatility, she then sang a warm and intimate “We’ll Be Togrther Again,” her musical narrative enhanced by a lovely solo from bassist Oles. And she wrapped up her far-ranging set of songs with a pair of classic Jobim bossa novas: “Sad” (“Triste”) and “No More Blues” (“Chega De Saudade). Neither song has an English translation as touching as the original Portuguese. But to April’s credit, she delivered the English version of both with convincing believability.
Tonight, April Williams will no doubt be back at her task of keeping Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programming alive and cooking. And she can be pleased that on Saturday night, she accomplished that task superbly – not just as a music room manager, but as a featured artist, and a good one. Let’s hope she steps on stage again, and soon.
Performance photo by Bob Barry.