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Pop Music Reviews : Novelties From Whitcomb, Zimmerman

May 07, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Ian Whitcomb and Dick Zimmerman made their musical intentions clear from the very start of their set Tuesday night at the Cinegrill of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. "There'll be no Gershwin," said Whitcomb, "no Kern and no Porter. Only a bunch of songs that you don't have to give any respect to at all--just have fun with them."

In fact, there was a bit more to it than that. Whitcomb, a British singer, ukuleleist and accordionist whose 15 minutes of fame came in the mid-'60s with a hit rock 'n' roll song called "You Turn Me On," has spent most of the succeeding years poking around the forgotten music of Tin Pan Alley. With expert ragtime pianist Zimmerman, he has assembled a program of novelties, ballads, ragtime and patter that is actually a carefully disguised, mini-seminar in pre-Depression popular song.

Lean and elegant in a white dinner jacket, his voice a contemporary echo of Noel Coward's light tenor, Whitcomb breezed through such evocatively titled numbers as "I Found a Lemon in the Garden of Love (Where They Told Me Only Peaches Grow)," "You've Got to Show It to Mother (Before You Can Show It to Me)," "I'm Waiting for Ships That Never Come In" and "That Ragtime Suffragette."

Unlike Tiny Tim, who has worked with similar repertoire, Whitcomb avoided good-old-days campiness, and sang the songs with a graceful humor that was as witty as it was authentic.

Zimmerman, who has recorded the complete works of Scott Joplin, as well as a five-record historic ragtime collection, kept to the tried and true for his part of the set with a surprisingly stately paced "Maple Leaf Rag" and a drivingly rhythmic "Agitation Rag."

Whitcomb and Zimmerman return to the Cinegrill May 19.

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