By Don Heckman
What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.
There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.
Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.
Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.
The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.
But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.
Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.