By Don Heckman
Hollywood. Any evening of music with the names of Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at the top of the program is pretty much guaranteed to offer plenty of memorable moments. Which is exactly what happened Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.
The overflow crowd of enthusiastic fans, filling virtually every table in Catalina Popescu’s large, but still warm and cozy venue, were there because of their awareness of the stellar qualities of the two headliners.
The versatile Hale is a remarkable multi-hyphenate, doubling impressively on harp and piano, and a first call studio player on both instruments, singing with her own uniquely interpretive vocal qualities and a frequent discoverer and supporter of new young vocal talent. (Add to that her year round efforts to support candidates of the Democratic Party – more evidence of the vitality that has been present over the course of Hale’s long dynamic career.)
Laws is, of course, a member of the remarkable Laws family – which also includes flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Ronnie Laws and singer Debra Laws. But her lengthy and busy career – reaching back to the ’70s is her own. Although she has demonstrated prime talents as a back up singer, she has firmly established herself as master of crossover styles reaching across pop, blues, r&b and jazz. Nor can we overlook her skills as a producer, actress and writer for the stage.
The performance by Hale and Laws – titled “Sister! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – provided an excellent opportunity for each to display her various talents. Hale moved frequently from piano to harp, pausing on a few occasions to take the vocal microphone herself. Laws, occasionally interacting humorously with her listeners, displayed her stylistic range with a rich program of songs.
Each also dealt with some occasional uncertainty about which song was coming next, transforming the confusion into improvisational banter. Although it may have seemed disorienting from the performers’ on stage perspective, it was – for the audience – another of the evening’s many delights.
Add to that, the music itself. Among the numerous highlights:
Laws quickly dug into the theme of the show – “Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – with a a briskly swinging romp through “How High the Moon” recalling the classic Ella Fitzgerald version. And she followed with other salutes – to Billie Holiday with “God Bless the Child,” Peggy Lee with “Fever,” and Shirley Horn with “Here’s To Life” (accompanied by pianist Artie Butler, who composed the song with lyricist Phyllis Molinary), and more. Further displaying her interpretive range, she offered a lyrical reading of “Send in the Clowns” and dueted with Hale’s harp accompaniment on “My Ship” and guitarist John Chiodini’s backing on “I’m Old Fashioned,”
Hale was the dynamo for the entire performance. Moving from the piano to the harp and back to the piano, energizing the backing of the rhythm section and keeping track of the program, she only had the opportunity to sing a few vocals. When she did – especially on “I Want To Be Happy” and “S’Wonderful” – she left the audience (and this listener) wishing for more. Hale’s generosity with other singers, often present in her performances, was an essential part of this evening, as well. And the results made for a program overflowing with entertaining musicality.
Still, as I’ve written in past reviews of Hale’s appearances, I hope that she will also continue to find – amid her immensely busy life – time to express her own musical creativity, as well.