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Jazz Meets Pop : Matt Catingub and Toni Tennille are admirers of each other's work. The two, who will play together in Sherman Oaks, were raised on similar types of music.

August 27, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about music for The Times.

Matt Catingub and Toni Tennille: Are they the odd musical couple of the '90s?

If you've ever heard of Catingub, it's probably for his jazz gigs with his big band, or with large ensembles led by Louie Bellson or Toshiko Akiyoshi.

By the same token, it's a good bet that most people know Tennille from the hit records--among them "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love"--which she made in the mid-'70s with her husband, Daryl Dragon, under the stage name "The Captain and Tennille."

So it might seem strange that Catingub and Tennille are ardent admirers of each other. But not when you find out that they were both pretty much raised on the same kind of music.

Saxophonist, pianist and bandleader Catingub is the son of the late jazz singer Mavis Rivers, and he grew up hearing his mother's first-rate recordings for Capitol and Reprise records.

"As a child, I'd play her albums, and have no idea what I was listening to, but I liked it, and I think it sank in," said North Hollywood native Catingub, 32, by phone from his home in Thousand Oaks.

Tennille, who's from Montgomery, Ala., also has long been a fan of classic pop standards: Her father, Frank Tennille, sang with orchestras led by Bob Crosby and Ben Pollack in the '30s.

"My dad raised me on the music of people like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan and June Christy," said Tennille, 49, by phone from the home she and Dragon share in Carson City Valley, Nev.

Catingub and Tennille, who appear together Tuesday at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks, began their professional relationship in mid-'80s. The drummer in Catingub's big band, Kevin Winard, was hired by Dragon and Tennille for their act, and they asked Winard for a demo tape, which turned out to be Catingub's album, "My Mommy and Me," on Sea Breeze Records.

"Daryl flipped," said Tennille, recalling the first time the pair heard Catingub's ensemble. "He said, 'You gotta work with this guy. He's the next thing in big bands.' "

Tennille hired Catingub in 1987, and since then he has became her musical director when she appears in a big-band context.

He also plays keyboards, saxes and sings backgrounds with The Captain and Tennille.

"I'm really impressed with Matt. There seems to be nothing he can't do," Tennille said. "He has one foot grounded in traditional jazz and the other in whatever new is happening."

Catingub believes that Tennille, despite the fact that she calls herself a pop vocalist, is really a jazz singer. "She swings harder than a lot of singers who claim to be jazz singers," he said. "Her roots are in the jazz vein and she has a natural feel. That's what I like about her singing--it's not forced. It's from the heart. Which is the way I like any music to be."

This weekend, Tennille will record a new album, "Things are Swingin,' " with Catingub's big band.

Half of the arrangements are by Catingub, the rest by Sammy Nestico, renowned for his charts for Count Basie and Frank Sinatra.

Dragon and Tennille are self-producing the album, and will shop it to various labels when it's completed.

At the Moonlight Tango, Catingub's band will do four or five instrumentals, then Tennille will come on.

Her repertoire will include such tunes as "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" and "Teach Me Tonight."

"It's a happy, joyous feeling to be singing these kinds of songs with such great musicians around," Tennille said. "I don't know what else you could do in music that's more fun than that."

Catingub and Tennille appeared at the Moonlight Tango in 1992 in a tribute to Rivers, who died that May in mid-performance at the Vine Street Bar & Grill in Hollywood.

Catingub, who worked with his mother from age 15, said it wasn't always paradise performing with Rivers.

"We argued, and being in a professional relationship twisted some things," he said. "On the other side, it was great to be on stage with her, because she was a great singer. That was a joy."

Catingub said it's only because his mother has died that Tennille is singing with his band.

"It was like, 'I'm the vocalist in this band and nobody else,' " he said. "So I'm blessed to have that experience but I'm moving on. I'm very excited about this new partnership."

Where and When Who: Matt Catingub's big band, with singer Toni Tennille. Location: Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Hours: 8 and 10 p.m. Tuesday. Price: $13 cover, two-drink minimum. Call: (818) 788-2000.

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