Keely Smith, responding gratefully to the overwhelming reaction of a capacity aud, caught producer Jack Kleinsinger off guard when she queried why she wasn’t doing a second night. The opening concert of the 33rd annual Highlights in Jazz concert series found the lady clearly revved up and cookin’ big time with a repertoire that was so fond and familiar that patrons could not resist singing along and only just stopped short of dancing in the aisles.
Backed by a crackerjack nine-piece unit, Smith, at the spirited age 77, was in great vocal command. Her buttery voice was strong, mellow and assured, and she knew it, hitting the high spots of a familiar songbook for a bountiful 90-minute turn.
The program was a strong sell for her latest Concord CD “Vegas ’58 — Today” being the old favorites in a bright new approach. Of course, a large portion of the concert paid homage to former husband and partner Louis Prima. “You all know who Louis Prima is, don’t you?” Smith queried with the postscript, “‘Cause if you don’t, I’m in a whole lot of trouble!”
Their ’50s Vegas lounge act was a triumph for more than a decade. Gray-haired fans of the old days wallowed and romped as she soared into high gear with “Jump. Jive and Wail,” “Buona Sera,” “Up a Lazy River” and “Just a Gigolo,” to say nothing of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer homage to legerdemain, “That Old Black Magic.”
Considering the recent wave of biopics, Smith noted that she had been in conference with film execs about a project and suggested that Nicolas Cage would make a good Prima.
For all the fun, the veteran thrush really connected with a handful of timeless ballads. With a seductive syrupy sound Smith really stuck gold with a Nelson Riddle arrangement of “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” a charming and agreeably pliant take on “Sweet and Lovely” and reprised her chart hit, “I Wish You Love” with a sincere sense of ardent desire.
But it was none of those that plumbed the depths of one’s heart. Smith wrapped it up with the Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse show tune, “What Kind of Fool Am I?” that boasted not only a supremely melodic musical strength, but told a torchy tale that burned with desire and regret. A singular triumph!
Smith was accompanied by a cracker jack unit fronted by pianist Dennis Michaels. Filling the honky chair that was long occupied by retired sax man Sam Butera, was Jerry Vivino whose frisky tenor bathed the ballads in luxurious warmth and added considerable jump to the jive.
Next up for Highlights in Jazz is another go for period jazz Nov. 10 with Freddie Cole, Ken Peplowski and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.