By JOHN SOEDER, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Rosemary Clooney's performance yesterday afternoon at Severance Hall got under way with an inviting rendition of "Sentimental Journey."
Her concert, part of the Tri-C JazzFest, was just that - a trip back in time through the 20th-century American songbook, guided by one of our greatest vocalists.
Clooney's husband, Dante DiPaolo, helped her onstage, where she spent the entire hourlong show seated in a chair beside accompanist John Oddo's piano.
"I had a knee replaced about five years ago," Clooney told the audience.
The 72-year-old singer may not get around as well as she used to, but her voice was as robust as ever on "Hey There," "Love Is Here to Stay," an uptempo "Ol' Man River" and other swinging standards.
She also dusted off a few more obscure gems, including "Confessin' " (a throwback to her days with her Tony Pastor's big band) and Fred Astaire's "If Swing Goes, I Go Too." She prefaced the latter number by reading a letter from Astaire to her husband. "The Singer," an ode to Frank Sinatra co-written by Clooney's drummer, Joe Cocuzzo, segued perfectly into an elegiac cover of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning."
In her golden dress, Clooney cut a queenlike figure. At times, it seemed as if she were holding court. At other times, she came off more grandmotherly, all warm smiles and name-dropping anecdotes about Bing Crosby, Ira Gershwin and Nelson Riddle.
Clooney, a native of Maysville, Ky., who got her start singing on the radio in Cincinnati, was her own harshest critic. "I'll make up for those notes later," she apologized after a perfectly fine version of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." It painted a pretty-as-a-postcard picture of the Big Easy, complete with "moss-covered vines" and "tall sugar pines."
She opted not to humor us with her first big hit, "Come On-A My House," although she did get a big laugh with a priceless story about her pal Bob Hope. By way of introducing a tender take on "Thanks for the Memories," Clooney related how Hope's daughter Linda had delicately asked the comedian if he wished to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery or Los Angeles.
Hope's reply, as quoted by Clooney: "Surprise me."
Besides Oddo and Cocuzzo, Clooney was backed by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Under the finger-snapping, hand-clapping direction of David Baker, the 17-piece ensemble warmed up the crowd with faithful reproductions of jazz and big-band classics, including "Opus One," "St. Louis Blues March" and "What a Wonderful World." That classic was done as a splendorous duet by guitarist Royce Campbell and veteran trumpeter Joe Wilder.