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JAZZ REVIEW : Whitfield Evokes Glory of Tin Pan Alley

November 13, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

If it's songs you like--songs with melodies that tell stories, songs that tug at your heartstrings, remind you of a former love, make you think of times gone by--then get yourself to the Hollywood Roosevelt's Cinegrill to hear Weslia Whitfield in a contemporary rendering of all of Tin Pan Alley's glory.

Long the private treasure of San Francisco's more tony crowd, Whitfield made her debut at the Hollywood nightspot Tuesday night and more than wowed her attentive audience with those tunes from the classic pop genre.

From the pens of Bart Howard, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Sammy Kahn, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer came tunes that once propelled Broadway's story lines and topped the Hit Parade; from Whitfield came renditions of those same songs that have proven both durable and enduring.

"We just do a bunch of songs," she told the audience. "That's all." Indeed, it was enough.

Whitfield, whose back-of-the-throat alto is perfect for musical comedy (her legs, stilled by a gunman's bullets some 10 years ago, prohibit that indulgence), drew heavily during her opening set from the Broadway stage. The silver lining of that dark cloud allows us to hear, unadorned by corny commentary and inane stage business, such tunes as "I Got Lost in His Arms," from "Annie Get Your Gun," and Arlen and Truman Capote's "I Never Has Seen Snow," from the 1953 "House of Flowers," in a voice that at once reminded one of Julie Andrews and Dinah Washington.

Though the rich tapestry of American song Whitfield so beautifully wove was heavy on the ballads, she was equally effective on such swinging tunes as "He Loves Me," "Give Me the Simple Life" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along."

Though the trite "Trolley Song" was an unnecessary intrusion on the evening's proceedings, the inclusions of Lil Armstrong's "Just for a Thrill" and David Frishberg's "Another Song About Paris" showed Whitfield's senses of history and of humor.

As impressive as her 15-tune set was, her choice of accompaniment was equally so. Pianist Mike Greensill and bassist Herbie Mickman were flawless in their backing and the singer showed great wisdom in not employing a drummer.

Whitfield works the Cinegrill through Nov. 21.

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