Clooney Tunes Warm The Wintry Soul

(Newsday 2-10-95)

By Gene Seymour. STAFF WRITER

IT ALWAYS seems that Rosemary Clooney's annual migration from the left to the right coast comes just when we need her most.

Clooney always makes her month-long stand at Rainbow & Stars (30 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan) in February, the calendar's cold sore. But the enveloping warmth of her voice and persona has been especially welcome this week, given New York's swift plunge into deep-freeze.

Clooney opened her seventh annual stint at Rainbow Tuesday night with her customary first-rate collection of accompanists - drummer Joe Cocuzzo, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist Jay Leonhart, trumpeter George Rabbai and saxophonist Ted Nash (filling in for Scott Hamilton). Playing piano was John Oddo, her musical director.

She was also armed with engaging repartee, offering her audience a recap of what's-been-up-with-Rosie since her last romp in midtown Manhattan's most famous penthouse. Apparently, it's been a rough year for the 66-year-old singer, who spent five days at the Mayo Clinic late last year for a checkup following bouts with a kidney stone and pneumonia. She recounted such grim stuff with self-deprecating humor that complemented the show's cozy vibes.

This year is especially auspicious for Clooney because it marks a half-century since she first broke into show business on a Cincinnati radio station singing with her late sister, Betty. Her just-released album, "Demi-Centennial" (Concord), marks the occasion with several songs associated with her legendary, if mercurial, career. Many of these, of course, made it into the opening night repertoire. "Mambo Italiano," one of her pop hits, was given a trot, as were "The Coffee Song" and "I'm Confessin'," which she used to perform with Betty. On the album and in her show, she sang the piece in a spirited duet with Betty's daughter, Cathi Campo. Clooney observed that, of Betty's four children and her five, Campo was the only singer (good pipes, too).

Clooney rendered Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" with even more creative use of light and shadow than she did on "Blue Rose," her classic 1956 LP with Ellington. She also paid touching tribute to the late Jose Ferrer, to whom she was married for a tempestuous decade, by singing what she said was one of his favorite songs, the Mack Gordon-Harry Warren standard, "There Will Never Be Another You."

There was an even more direct communion with the past, courtesy of Stephen Sondheim's "Old Friends," which, both live and on the album, includes recorded stretches from an old radio show on which a younger Clooney appeared with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; both men, she says on "Demi-Centennial's" liner notes, "were loyal friends to me. Even when there was trouble."

The "trouble" came in the late 1960s, when her career had hit the doldrums and her emotional life went into free fall because of drugs and alcohol. Since the late 1970s, she's enjoyed steady success on record and greater recognition for her artistry.

Other songs from "Demi-Centennial" - "White Christmas," "How Will I Remember You," among them - didn't make the cut for the opening set. But she'll be there till March 4, so there's plenty of time. A Valentine's night with Clooney is even more romantic, even better than, well, roses. (But you'd better call now.)

ROSEMARY CLOONEY. Rainbow & Stars (30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th floor, Manhattan), show times 8:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays with a la carte dinner menu offered from 6:30 p.m. and supper served from 10 p.m. There is a $40 cover charge, no minimum. Reservations: (212) 632-5000.

Copyright 1995, Newsday Inc.