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JAZZ REVIEW : Shearing, Lee and Torme Showcased at Hollywood Bowl

August 04, 1995|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There was more than a century and a half of show business experience on stage at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night. George Shearing, 75; Peggy Lee, 75, and Mel Torme, 69, have been headliners in their profession since the dark years of World War II.

Perhaps inevitably, a concert featuring veteran performers often becomes a summing up of greatest hits, showcased within a framework of vitality and longevity. On this American Airlines Jazz at the Bowl program, there were plenty of greatest hits, along with a fair taste of longevity.

Shearing started the bill with a look back at his classic quintet sound--smoothly phrased melodies articulated by vibes, guitar and piano above a flowing rhythm. Curiously, although he included "East of the Sun" and "Autumn Serenade," he passed over the group's best-known number, "September in the Rain." A few solo slots were allocated to individual players: vibist Steve Nelson on "Scrapple From the Apple," bassist Neil Swainson on an extended version of "If I Should Lose You." It was comfortable, accessible, lightweight jazz--far removed from some of the penetrating work Shearing has done as a soloist --but an appealing entertainment for the responsive crowd of 12,360.

Lee's set was long on style and manner. Various infirmities now obligate her to perform while seated, and her voice, while occasionally hardy, rarely revealed the small subtleties of inflection and timbre that were once her stock in trade. Although she sang such trademark tunes as "Fever" and "Why Don't You Do Right," she was at her finest on an easygoing blues, "You Don't Know How I Feel." Lee should, however, give serious consideration to eliminating the painfully dated "Manana" from her repertoire.

Torme, despite a persistent tendency to swoop up into notes on his ballads, is very much at the peak of his skills these days. But this time he had an uneven outing. He ripped through a brilliant, up-tempo version of "Pick Yourself Up" while scatting with incredible precision; did a joyous reading of "You Make Me Feel So Young"; had fun with a Benny Goodman medley, and then nearly fell on his face with a confused opening to "My Foolish Heart."

But Torme more than made up for his misstep in a closing duet with Shearing on "It Might as Well Be Spring," in which the two highly compatible artists' decades of seasoning combined with their still-potent creative powers to produce a magical, memorable moment.

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