Embarrassment of Riches in `Singers' Salute to Songwriter'

LEONARD FEATHER. The Los Angeles Times, Apr 1, 1988

All it takes to stage a first-class benefit concert is talent, rehearsal time and legal tender. Nothing was spared when Rosemary Clooney's third annual "Singers' Salute to the Songwriter" was staged Wednesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Between 7:45 and 11:30 more than 40 singers paraded on the stage, in an event organized to raise funds for the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons With Brain Injury. Though Merv Griffin was the principal emcee, Clooney herself spoke and sang a few times. The family honors, however, were taken by her sister Betty's daughter, Cathi Demman, who applied her pure, gentle sound to Melissa Manchester's "Happy Endings."

Flawlessly produced by Allen Sviridoff (the only glitch was one song in which Clooney blew her lyrics), the show benefited from a superb house orchestra led by Peter Matz, playing perfectly tailored arrangements by Matz, John Oddo and others.

The six segments honored the team of Adolph Green & Betty Comden, followed by Burton Lane, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ralph Burns (an arranger's award), Melissa Manchester and Michel Legrand, all of whom were on hand.

Because almost nobody got to sing more than one or two songs, the pacing was swift. Rather than attempt to review all the dozens of participants, it may be fitting to use our own awards system:

Most Surprising Triumph: Toni Tennille, whose "What Did I Have That I Don't Have Now" revealed all the soul, beauty and warmth of which she is capable when the song and the setting are right.

Hottest Groove: Patti Austin, backed by the female foursome known as Perri, in a knockout, marvelously spirited version of "I Can Cook Too."

Best Instiller of Goosebumps: Sue Raney, a blond beauty whose treatment of "You Must Believe in Spring" was as emotional as Maureen McGovern was lady-like.

Most Stirring Moment: The instant standing ovation accorded Ella Fitzgerald, who was there not to sing but to present Jobim with his award.

Best Instrumental Moments: Stan Getz, his tenor sax aglow with Jobim's "How Insensitive" and Legrand's "Summer of '42." Also, preceding him, Oscar Castro Neves, whose vocal on "Waters of March" and guitar solo on "Wave" belatedly brought the right Brazilian flavor to a segment that had suffered from a contrived performance by the L. A. Jazz Choir.

Best Ballad: Joe Williams singing "Old Devil Moon."

Most Nostalgic Trips: Patti Page on stage, and the four Lennon Sisters, telling us, a cappella, about conditions in Glocca Morra.

Least Honored Honoree: Ralph Burns, represented only by two of his older and atypical arrangements.

No-shows were Bob Hope (doctor's order; but his wife Dolores was on hand as vocalist for "On a Clear Day"), Diahann Carroll and Vic Damone. Jack Jones, who had the flu, told a Jimmy Swaggart joke but didn't sing. Anita Baker read a tribute to Manchester from Barry Manilow. Dorothy Lamour paid tribute to Rosalind Wyman, the concert chairwoman.

In the future, trimming down the number of performers a little would not hurt; this embarrassment of riches shortchanged a few artists who deserved more than three minutes on the stage. But it's safe to bet that nobody left the Pavilion feeling cheated.

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