By Don Heckman
There aren’t a lot of performers for whom I would take on a major weather front to hear. But that’s exactly what Faith and I did last Thursday, when we drove down from Oregon, past Mount Shasta, through a wind-swept snow storm.
To be sure, we were also heading south to spend some extended time in L.A., in part to get back into the musical groove, as well as spend time with friends for a month or so.
But there was a sole name at the top of our list of must-hear performers Who was it? The one and only Sally Kellerman at Catalina Bar & Grill, I’m speaking the obvious, of course. Everyone’s familiar with Sally’s long time identification with her role as Hot Lips in the film version of MASH. But in recent years, she has created an equally seductive image as a vocal artist.
At Catalina’s, Sally, combining both qualities, generated all the sexy recollections of Hot Lips, combined with the captivating imagery of an irresistible torch singer. When Sally flashed a come hither look, grown men began to perspire and breathe deeply. When she offered a slow twist of her hips, wives kicked their husbands under the tables.
But what it really came down to was what Sally did with the music. Unknown to many of her fans, she’s been a highly regarded singer since she was still in her teens. And the frequent appearances I’ve seen of her in action as a mature artist have grown in musicality and dramatic subtlety.
As a result, every new appearance has brought new Kellerman pleasures. And this one, in which she was solely backed by the stunning synthesizer and acoustic piano of Ed Martell, provided even more.
Start with Sally’s voice, which has matured into a superb instrument, reaching from clear, ringing head tones to emotionally rich chest timbres and the capacity to occasionally generate swinging jazz phrases. The real accomplishments of this performance were most apparent in the way Sally applied those skills to a range of vocal interpretations that were the product of a mature artist who brought every song she sang, and every musical story she told, vividly to life.
Some of the highlights: The sexy fun of “I Want A Little Sugar,” “Love Potion Number Nine,” “Somebody Call the Cops” and “The Lies of Handsome Men.” Add to that the ease with which she found new riches in diverse standards such as “Walk On By,” “Orange Colored Sky” “Sooner Or Later, “Say It Isn’t So,” and a colorful group of blues.
Finally, there were Sally’s stunningly poignant renderings of two offbeat classics from the Great American Songbook: “Black Coffee” and “Is That All There Is?” followed by a delightful encore rendering of “One For my Baby.”
It was, in other words, an evening to remember. One that completely justified plowing through the snow, ice and rain at Mount Shasta. I’ve been writing about Sally for years, captivated by the evolution of her skills as a masterful vocal artist. And it felt completely appropriate that Faith and I were present for this latest step in her remarkable creative journey.