By Don Heckman
The right musical group, the right venue and the right book got together early last week at Catalina Bar and Grill. And the results were superlative.
The group, Dave Damiani and his No Vacancy Orchestra, celebrating the Frank Sinatra 100th birthday, offered one of their high quality displays of hard swinging big band jazz, and a lot more. Catalina’s, arguably one of the Left Coast’s finest, world class jazz institutions, provided the perfect setting for the rich array of entertainment in the Damiani set.
Topping off the evening, there was the introduction and book signing of Sinatra 100, a remarkable new book by Nancy Sinatra and Charles Pignone, a frequent Sinatra biographer. The huge tome, large enough to encompass anyone’s coffee table, overflows with Sinatra photos over the decades, with Pignone’s commentary enhanced by direct quotes from Sinatra.and forwards by the Sinatra family. Sinatra 100 is now in the book stores. Don’t miss this one.
The quality of sound and swing in the Damiani Orchestra’s performance excelled in the traditional big jazz band style, and did so despite its minimized instrumentation. Dropping one player from the usual big band ensemble, they performed with 3 rather than 4 trumpets, 3 rather than 4 trombones, 4 rather than 5 saxophones, and a 4 rather than a 5 piece rhtyhm section. Yet despite the shortened sections, there was no lapse whatsoever in the band’s stunning range of dynamic energy. And give Damiani and his arrangers credit for providing arrangements that triggered extraordinary results from the Damiani ensemble’s collective swing and individual soloing skills.
The Damiani Orchestra performance was more than an engaging collection of vocal and instrumental music. It also featured colorful dancers, some spotlight soloing from several of the Orchestra’s world class jazz artists — a collective entertainment.
Beyond the Damiani players, the evening also showcased a pair of gifted singers: Renee Olstead and Landau Eugene Murphy, offering their own unique visions of material from the Sinatra catalog. Add to that Damiani, a fine singer himself, also joining the evening’s far reaching collection of song.
Among the highlights: “How Little We Know,” “I’m Old fashioned,” “Ain’t That A Kick In the Head,” “Tender Trap,” “Come Fly With Me” and more.
Olstead, now a busy actress, was also a gifted vocal prodigy. While still in her early teens she delighted a Hollywood Bowl audience with her blues-driven version of Etta James’ “At Last.” At 26, she is now a fully mature vocal artist. Singing with the Damiani Orchestra, she combined the enthusiasm of her youth with the interpretive talents she now brings to her singing.
Murphy’s warm and captivating baritone voice added its own balladry to the evening. Without reaching into the stylistic Sinatra canon, he applied an appealing vocal timbre and expressive interpretive qualities to his performance.
Give Damiani credit for joining all these disparate elements into another evening of unforgettable music. And praise Catalina Popescu, proprietress of Catalina Bar & Grill, once again affirming her impressive ability to present world class entertainment artistry.