Live Jazz: Cat Conner’s “Birthday Bash” at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

Jazz singer Cat Conner gave a birthday party to remember at Vitello’s Thursday night.  Actually, a “Birthday Bash,” as she described it, in which she and her close friend, Lee Hartley, sang their way through a delightful evening of song.

Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer
Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer
Cat Conner

Backed by the stellar trio of pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Ray Brinker, with creative contributions from saxophonist/clarinetist Gene “Cip” Ciprano, Conner and Hartley were clearly enjoying each of the numbers they sang in a nearly two hour program.

After the trio’s opening romp through “Stella By Starlight,” Conner dug into a jaunty “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” following it with “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and Dave Frishberg’s whimsical blues, “I Can’t Take You Nowhere” (which she dedicated to her mother.)  Here, as elsewhere, Conner displayed her warm, intimate way with a song.

Cat Conner and Lee Hartley
Cat Conner and Lee Hartley

Hartley, an impressive jazz artist in her own right, added her gently swinging “I Love Being Here With You” and an original song inspired by Nat “King” Cole.

There was much more to come, including “My Wish For You,” an intriguing version of a lovely Luis Bonfa melody from the film, Black Orpheus, with lyrics by Peggy Lee.  And a romp through “Mr. P.C.” featuring Berghofer’s articulate soloing.  Along with the occasional pairing of Conner and Hartley on tunes such as “I Mean You” and a lyrically revised “Girl Talk.”

Cat Conner, Gene "Cip" Cipriano and Lee Hartley
Cat Conner, Gene “Cip” Cipriano and Lee Hartley

Cipriano, playing clarinet (and calling up images of Artie Shaw), joined Conner and the rhythm section to duet on “Moonglow” and “Squeeze Me.”  Conner was also especially on target, continuing to focus on her musical storytelling via warm interpretations of “How Deep is The Ocean?” and “Embraceable You.”  She wound up the celebration with a high spirited romp through Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomsas.”

The birthday party climaxed with, appropriately, some birthday cake, and a lot of celebratory hugs between Conner and her listeners, most of whom seemed to be close friends and musical acquaintances.

Which wasn’t exactly what one expects from a mid-week gig.  But on this enjoyable evening, Conner, Hartley and their back-up trio found all the pleasant linkages between the music and the birthday celebration.  And, as oten happens at Vitello’s, the performance had the relaxed feeling of a living room jam session among close friends.

No wonder Cat was smiling for most of this night to remember.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

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