Live Music: Steve Tyrell at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 17, 2012

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA.  Steve Tyrell is back at Catalina Bar & Grill this week.  No surprise there, since the veteran singer has become a regular at the Hollywood jazz room, frequently drawing overflow crowds to his performances of familiar standards.

Which is what he did on Thursday night, with a program largely dedicated to the songs of Sammy Cahn, before an audience glittering with song writing associations.  Among his listeners – Cahn’s widow, Tita, Jimmy McHugh’s granddaughter, Judy McHugh, as well as the songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and songwriter Mike Stoller.

The Steve Tyrell Band:Bob Mann, Lyman Medeiros, Steve Tyrell, Lew Soloff

Tyrell’s extensive background as a producer taught him, early on in his career, that singers are always deeply reliant upon the quality of their instrumental support.  And he has wisely assembled an impressive seven piece band – featuring stellar work from guitarist Bob Mann, saxophonist Jeff Driscoll and trumpeter Lew Soloff – that provided consistently solid backing.  Soloff’s trumpet work, moving from plunger-muted soloing to far ranging, high note ensemble leads, was a particularly vital contribution to the colorful sounds and rhythms curling around Tyrell’s vocals.

Add to that the beautifully crafted arrangements by Mann, Don Sebesky and Alan Broadbent.  And, of course, there was the amazing catalog of Cahn’s music, overflowing with the sort of catchy lyrics perfectly appropriate for Tyrell’s jauntily expressive singing style.

Steve Tyrell

Working with barely a break, moving smoothly from one Cahn classic to another he hit many of the high points in this remarkable catalog, dealing with each in appropriately atmospheric fashion: “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Time After Time,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “Come Fly With Me,” “It’s Magic, “Teach Me Tonight,”  “It All Depends on You,” “I’ve Got the World On A String” and “All the Way.”  (Note that there are a couple of Academy Award winners in that list.)

Tyrell also acknowledged some of the other songwriter presence in the audience by adding Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and the Bergmans’ “Nice and Easy.’  Topping it all off, he also included a pair of Bacharach and David tunes – “The Look of Love” and “This Guy’s In Love With You” – dating back to his youthful association, as a producer, with the great songwriting team.

Call it a well-crafted show.  Tyrell’s ebullient singing style, tinged with a good guy Texas accent and briskly rhythmic phrasing, was the centerpiece in an evening that was as entertaining as it was well-crafted.  Chatting amiably between numbers, telling a story or two, acknowledging celebrities in the crowd, he offered a virtual seminar in how to showcase the Great American Songbook.

There will be two more opportunities to experience Tyrell in action, with shows tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow at Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210 for reservations.

Photos by Bob Barry.

Jazz CD Review: John Pizzarelli “Rockin’ In Rhythm”

March 13, 2010

John Pizzarelli

Rockin’ In Rhythm (Telarc)

By Don Heckman

John Pizzarelli’s recordings have almost always reached well beyond the level of simply jamming a few tunes with his quartet.  His thematically oriented tributes to Richard Rodgers, Nat “King’ Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Bossa Nova, among others, have been superb settings for his singing, his guitar playing and his imaginative musicality.

With Rockin’ In Rhythm, a tribute to Duke Ellington, he does it again and the results are extraordinary.  One simply couldn’t have asked for a better production than what Pizzarelli has assembled – true to the spirit of its subject while remaining completely alive, unique and spontaneous.

Start with the fact that there’s not a moment in which there’s a whisper of doubt that this is a jazz album, through and through.  Pizzarelli’s singing is a significant element, as it should be.  But so, too, are the hard-swinging, Ellington/Strayhorn-tinged arrangements by Don Sebesky, and the lively ensemble playing by the seven piece band he calls his Swing Seven.  Add to that the individual soloing by virtually everyone in the band, along with the added contributions of singers Kurt Elling and Jessica Molaskey (Pizzarelli’s wife), guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (his Dad), violinist Aaron Weinstein and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.  The sense of high spirited joie de vivre that was clearly present in the studio brings every track vividly to life.

The opening “In A Mellow Tone” sets the mood for what is to come.  Pizzarelli sings the line vibrantly before dipping into his vocal-with-guitar-line improvising (which surfaces on many other tracks, as well).  Next up is the first of two tracks in which a pair of Ellington tunes are combined in intimate musical medleys.  This one uses the old instrumental line “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” as a background for Pizzarelli’s vocal version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”  The album’s last track similarly links “Cottontail” and “Rockin’ In Rhythm” into an ineffably swinging finale.

Other highlights abound: Pizzarelli’s gorgeously lyrical balladry on “In My Solitude” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”; his lush, but articulate solo guitar version of “Squeeze Me”; the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-like version of “Perdido” by Pizzarelli,  Molasky and Elling; Harry Allen’s stirring tenor saxophone solos – hard-romping on “C Jam Blues, late-night-romantic on “I Got It Bad”; and pianist Larry Fuller’s brilliant work throughout – especially the buoyant stride solo on “Rockin’ In Rhythm” that nearly steals the record.

There’s not a track that doesn’t demand the enjoyment of repeated hearing.  Although it’s still very, very early in the qualification year, Rockin’ In Rhythm already makes a convincing case for its inclusion in the nominations for Best Jazz Vocal album in the 2010 Grammy awards.


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