"Beyond category" is a phrase that comes up a lot in Leata Galloway's reviews. Leonard Feather used it to describe her 1982 Los Angeles appearance in "Sophisticated Ladies," and a similar sense of awe flavors most of her other press clippings.
A slender young woman with the stark cheekbones and mysterious elegance of a high fashion model, Galloway has both the looks and the presence to command any audience's attention. But it's the range--both in her 3 1/2-octave voice and in her music eclecticism--that makes her such a fascinating performer.
Looking stylishly at home in the Art Deco environs of the Roosevelt Hotel's Theodore Restaurant this past weekend, coolly ignoring a chorus of direct and indirect stares, Galloway was quite willing to embrace the "beyond category" description.
"I grew up in Harlem listening to gospel music, black music and jazz," she said. "I started performing on Broadway when I was still young enough to absorb show tunes into my experience. I listened to Nancy Wilson--whom I love--and Brook Benton. Throw in a little bit of Nat King Cole and the Beatles and Yma Sumac and there I am."
At the Roosevelt's Cinegrill Room, Los Angeles audiences will have a first-hand opportunity to experience Galloway's range. She will perform there tonight through Saturday, Tuesday, next Wednesday through Oct. 4 and Oct. 7-11.
"I'll be doing a lot of things," she said. "A bit of jazz, because that's my love--probably 'Moody's Mood for Love'--and some contemporary material like Patti LaBelle's 'New Attitude' and Robert Palmer's 'Addicted to Love.'
"I prefer songs that have a message, with good melodies that you don't have to do acrobatics with to get attention. Fortunately, songs like that seem to be coming back."
When she can't find them, Galloway writes them herself: "There'll be two or three originals in the show, but I'm not the kind of songwriter who gets up in the morning and knocks out a masterpiece. I try to keep a list of ideas in my mind, and every now and then they shape themselves into a song."
Galloway was one of the original cast members of the Broadway production of "Hair." "I really knew nothing about Broadway when I auditioned for the show," she recalled. "The Apollo Theatre was my entire sense of what show business was about."
After 2 1/2 years she moved on to other musicals, with a credit list that ranges from Gower Champion's "Rockabye Hamlet" to Tom Eyen's "Ms. Nefertiti Regrets".
But it is Galloway's critically acclaimed appearances at such prime Manhattan cabarets as Reno Sweeney, the Ballroom, the Grand Finale and the Greene Street Cafe that have made her one of the most important of the new generation of nightclub performers.
Galloway takes all the talk about versatility and eclecticism in stride: "I believe that once you focus on something in life, no matter what it might be, eventually it comes to the surface."
She shrugged and smiled: "I'm comfortable with all these styles, so if that means I'm beyond category, so be it."