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Cole Porter Canon Will Get a 2nd Shot

May 23, 1996|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"From This Moment On." "You're the Top." "You Do Something to Me." "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." "It's De-Lovely." These tunes have two things in common:

They're all by Cole Porter. And none was heard during the Great American Music Company's recent tribute to him.

So, the company has put together a second show of Porter's music. It premieres Sunday at Diva in Costa Mesa.

"We did about 20 great tunes during the first show," bassist Jack Prather said recently from his home in San Juan Capistrano. "And now we have another 20 great tunes. Porter's output was truly amazing, with something like 800 songs to his credit."

The second Porter show will be the latest in a series of tributes to the great composers and lyricists of what Prather calls the "American songbook." Previous shows have featured George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. As part of each show, Prather and other members of the company weave anecdotes and bits of historical information among the musical presentations.

It's all part of what Prather calls jazz-cabaret.

"A lot of cabaret performers have paid homage to Cole Porter over the years. We're offering a new way to look at cabaret, getting closer to the material as jazz.

"We're bringing some freshness to the songs. We do 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy' in 6/4 [time], like Wayne Shorter's 'Footprints.' We have a version of Phil Woods' arrangement of 'From This Moment On.' We do 'So in Love' as a samba. 'Let's Misbehave' is done as a bossa nova."

Singer Stephanie Haynes says she likes Porter's songs because of their suitability to jazz interpretations.

"I do Cole Porter songs all the time. They have such longevity. The reason is that the chord changes are very amenable to improvisation. Their harmonic structures and chordal structure lend themselves to different interpretations."

Along with Prather and Haynes, the Great American Music Company includes singer Dewey Erney, pianist Dick Shreve and drummer Paul Kreibich. The group plays Diva every Friday and Saturday and has other tributes--including one to Duke Ellington--scheduled for this summer.

Prather finds it remarkable that Porter wrote both music and lyrics.

"Most songwriters worked in teams, like Rodgers and Hart. Very few were able to write both words and music. Irving Berlin was one, probably the Tin Pan Alley favorite. But the great literate master of that era was Cole Porter."

He also likes the way Porter's music offers a glimpse at a lifestyle that has largely disappeared.

"People say [Porter's] songs mirrored his times, especially the '20s, the last of the jazz age, and the early '30s, which were the last days of the filthy rich. [After World War II] everything changed. But that time--a time of perfect martinis, penthouses and people in top hats--lives on in Porter's music."

* Who: The Great American Music Company.

* When: Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

* Where: Diva, 600 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: Take the 405 (San Diego) Freeway to Bristol Street, go north to Anton and turn right.

* Wherewithal: $35, includes dinner and the show.

* Where to call: (714) 754-0600.

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