In what’s said to be her first Los Angeles appearance since a 1965 Coconut Grove date, pop songstress Joni James brought a whole lot of memories to an enthusiastic capacity audience at North Hollywood’s Academy Plaza Theater at the first of three sold-out shows. One of the most popular femme singers of the ’50s, James retired in 1963 to attend to her ailing husband, Tony Acquiviva (who died in 1986), and children. James recently obtained her extensive and long-unavailable back catalog from MGM Records and is licensing it in Japan and (on the Taragon label) in the U.S.
Her perf was the most recent in a series of vintage pop presentations in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ theater, which features comfortable seating and crystalline acoustics.
Though it included a few generic standards (“Let There Be Love,””When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and “Day In, Day Out,” among them), bulk of the show was devoted to James’ own hits, including “Why Don’t You Believe Me,””How Important Can It Be?” and “Have You Heard?”
A couple of tunes with a Louis Prima-style shuffle rhythm varied the mood of the evening from James’ more typical big ballads, and it was nice to hear the verse of “When I Fell in Love.” Occasional problems with pitch were offset with warmth and spirit, an admirable respect for the melodies and expressive delivery of the lyrics.
Pianist Buddy Freed conducted a 13-piece band through James’ solid arrangements.