By Don Heckman
Stephanie Haynes was back last night. Back from years in Las Vegas, performing again at a premiere Los Angeles jazz club as she so often did in the closing decades of the 20th century. In those remembered evenings, she could be heard at such now-departed venues as Spazio or the Jazz Bakery. This time it was at a newer, but no less celebrated room – Vitello’s. And, once again, her audience was liberally sprinkled with other jazz singers, there to hear this skillful artist display her musical wares.
After a brisk, opening romp through the Arlen/Mercer ‘40s hit, “My Shining Hour,” by the Karen Hammack Trio – with Hammack, piano, Chris Conner, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums – Haynes went to work.
“Blue Gardenia” her first choice, was delivered with an upbeat intensity strikingly different from the classic Dinah Washington and Nat “King” Cole versions. And it set the stage for Haynes’ characteristic decision to offer an impressively diverse collection of songs.
As she has done so often in the past, she included less familiar, but worthy songs such as “Down Here On the Ground,” Kern & Hammerstein’s “Nobody Else But Me,” the Gershwin’s “Shall We Dance,” and the emotionally touching “Here’s To You Lady Day,” written by Haynes’ close musical associate, Jack Prather.
That’s not to say that she ignored the headline items from the Great American Songbook. Warren & Gordon’s “I Wish I Knew,” Arlen & Mercer’s “Out of This World,” the DePaul/Ray jazz standard, “I’ll Remember April” and the Styne/Kahn film song for Doris Day, “It’s You Or No One” were sung with the deep blend of musicality and lyrical expressiveness that are essential elements in everything Haynes touches.
The highlight item on the program, however, was a seasonal medley, prepared and articulately arranged for Haynes by the equally versatile Hammack. And here, too, the choices ranged from the familiar (“Autumn Leaves – sung in French and English – “Moonlight In Vermont” and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”) to the lesser known “Summer Nights” and “That Sunday, That Summer.”
It’s hard to recall a recent singer’s set that included anything close to such a remarkably far-reaching collection of songs. And the program’s high points – especially those passages in which the trio backed off their occasional tendency to produce an excess of rhythmic heat – recalled the intimate, musically communicative qualities that defined Haynes, decades ago, as one of the Southland’s finest vocal artists.
Let’s hope that this time out represented the opening lines of yet another chapter in her creatively imaginative career.