But Beautiful

I arrived in New York on Thursday on my way to Israel tonight, stopping over to visit the daughter formerly known as Little Trunk. On Thursday evening we went to see the second show of cabaret/jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway at the Blue Note Jazz Club. I had not heard of Callaway before her audacious 1996 release To Ella With Love, but I’m glad I took a chance on that disc. It introduced me to a warm and engaging performer.

Her show mostly featured well-known songs in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. She opened with the classic Arlen/Mercer number “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Then came “Summertime,” “Lush Life,” “But Beautiful,” and “It Could Happen To You,” before one of her own numbers with references to Camus (“If Camus had learned to kiss like you…”) and Nietzsche. For its wit and tunefulness, the song could have been passed off as a newly discovered Cole Porter composition. After Stephen Sondheim’s “No One Is Alone” she turned to Porter himself with “Just One of Those Things” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye” before closing with the Chick Corea/Al Jarreau workout “Spain.”

Despite the familiarity of most of the songs, Callaway stamps them with her own sensibility and makes them her own. She seems to be something of a romantic — “When you’re in love, you need gorgeous songs to honor what you have,” she said at one point between songs. To my ears, she brought a winning joy and mastery to the music. My daughter heard the emotions Callaway elicited from the songs and was deeply moved.

In the patter between songs Callaway referred to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee as her favorite singers. At one point she humorously imitated Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan singing a bar or two of the same song, exaggerating their styles. It was a funny moment, but I was struck by how much Callaway has absorbed her predecessors and found her own voice. She brings her own artistry to these beautiful songs and makes the great tradition come alive. She continues with two shows a night at the Blue Note tonight and tomorrow night.

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