"Clooney works her magic"
Philip Elwood, Chronicle Jazz Critic Monday, October 29, 2001
As Rosemary Clooney, America's musical Earth Mother, moved slowly -- on husband Dante DiPaolo's arm -- out of the side-stage shadows and into the Davies Hall spotlights, the huge crowd rose, applauded, whistled and shouted lusty greetings.
Waving to her fans, which she properly treats as family, Clooney maneuvered her way onto her throne (an easy chair from which she holds court) and flashed her winsome, dimpled Irish smile.
Her accompanying quintet's vamping walk-on music faded away, Clooney mentioned that her program would be a sentimental journey in song, and she began a gorgeous mellow rendition of (naturally) "Sentimental Journey." It established a warm, cozy mood for the rest of the one-hour San Francisco Jazz Festival performance.
After barely finishing the opening number, Clooney was approached by San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and Supervisor Mark Leno - - both with proclamations in hand. She quipped, "I didn't know I had two backup singers" (guffaws from the crowd), then gave way to Ammiano, who told her: "Mayor Willie Brown could not be here, and so . . ."
Clooney shot back, "Where is he?" (more laughter), and for a few more minutes the crowd got a good bit of snappy give-and-take comedy.
The vocalist covers her somewhat limited range by emphasizing her smooth, resonant contralto. She floats effortlessly through "I'm Confessin' That I Love You," casually changing keys on the concluding stanza; she treats Irving Berlin's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" as a narrative, and she reminds us, through singing, that Jimmy Van Heusen's obscure "But Beautiful" from 1948 is one of the finest of this great composer's efforts.
With a couple of exceptions ("The Singer," "Old Man River"), Clooney's was a lightly swinging affair, perfectly paced and delivered with heart and soul by an old pro who emphasizes lyrics ("That's what singers are supposed to do," she has said). As a matter of course, she works rhythmic and harmonic variations into her renditions.
She took "Old Man River" at racehorse pace (like Bing Crosby's 1927 version with Paul Whiteman) and sang Hoagy Carmichael's "Old Rockin' Chair's Got Me" with an ad-libbed "sure has" added. On "You Go to My Head," pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera accompanied her; on the other numbers, tenor saxophonist Vincent Trombetta and trumpeter Warren Luening made the group a quintet.
After a brief, heartfelt tribute to "my second home, New York," Clooney concluded the concert with "God Bless America."
San Francisco's immensely popular Paula West opened the presentation with a fine, definitive performance featuring the Gershwins' "Looking for a Boy," Oscar Brown's "The Snake," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Something to Remember You By" and her Ellington-Gillespie medley version of "Caravan/Night in Tunisia."
West has recorded and personalized most of these songs; her Saturday night performance, with a quintet, was certainly one of her finest.
E-mail Philip Elwood at email@example.com.