By Don Heckman
Hollywood CA. Steve Tyrell is back at Catalina Bar & Grill this week. No surprise there, since the veteran singer has become a regular at the Hollywood jazz room, frequently drawing overflow crowds to his performances of familiar standards.
Which is what he did on Thursday night, with a program largely dedicated to the songs of Sammy Cahn, before an audience glittering with song writing associations. Among his listeners – Cahn’s widow, Tita, Jimmy McHugh’s granddaughter, Judy McHugh, as well as the songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and songwriter Mike Stoller.
Tyrell’s extensive background as a producer taught him, early on in his career, that singers are always deeply reliant upon the quality of their instrumental support. And he has wisely assembled an impressive seven piece band – featuring stellar work from guitarist Bob Mann, saxophonist Jeff Driscoll and trumpeter Lew Soloff – that provided consistently solid backing. Soloff’s trumpet work, moving from plunger-muted soloing to far ranging, high note ensemble leads, was a particularly vital contribution to the colorful sounds and rhythms curling around Tyrell’s vocals.
Add to that the beautifully crafted arrangements by Mann, Don Sebesky and Alan Broadbent. And, of course, there was the amazing catalog of Cahn’s music, overflowing with the sort of catchy lyrics perfectly appropriate for Tyrell’s jauntily expressive singing style.
Working with barely a break, moving smoothly from one Cahn classic to another he hit many of the high points in this remarkable catalog, dealing with each in appropriately atmospheric fashion: “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Time After Time,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “Come Fly With Me,” “It’s Magic, “Teach Me Tonight,” “It All Depends on You,” “I’ve Got the World On A String” and “All the Way.” (Note that there are a couple of Academy Award winners in that list.)
Tyrell also acknowledged some of the other songwriter presence in the audience by adding Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and the Bergmans’ “Nice and Easy.’ Topping it all off, he also included a pair of Bacharach and David tunes – “The Look of Love” and “This Guy’s In Love With You” – dating back to his youthful association, as a producer, with the great songwriting team.
Call it a well-crafted show. Tyrell’s ebullient singing style, tinged with a good guy Texas accent and briskly rhythmic phrasing, was the centerpiece in an evening that was as entertaining as it was well-crafted. Chatting amiably between numbers, telling a story or two, acknowledging celebrities in the crowd, he offered a virtual seminar in how to showcase the Great American Songbook.
There will be two more opportunities to experience Tyrell in action, with shows tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow at Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210 for reservations.
Photos by Bob Barry.