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Out of Shower and Into Spotlight

Steve Blackwood, once too shy to warble in public, now belts out standards as a part-time profession.


Steve Blackwood's passion has always been for acting. Since he moved to California, he has appeared in "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" "NYPD Blue" and "The Nanny," as well as a few commercials.

But Blackwood, a former shower singer, has turned his behind-the-curtain vocalizing into a sideline profession. He appears tonight with Karen Hernandez's trio, plus guest trumpeter Jeff Elliott, at Monteleone's West in Tarzana.

On the bandstand, Blackwood, 40, delivers standards with what he calls "a bluesy twist." A thin man with an animated face, he performs tunes such as "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Bye, Bye Blackbird" with vibrancy and dramatic flair.

Blackwood, who was raised in Warren, Mich., said he chooses these numbers, and more poignant pieces like "Black Coffee," because "that stuff is in my bones."

"I grew up listening to my mother's records of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat 'King' Cole. I heard those things millions of times, and I'd sing along with them," he said. But only when he was alone. "My parents didn't know I sang until I was 19, because I didn't think I was any good and only sang when nobody was home."

Blackwood first sang in public in the late '70s, doing blues numbers as a guest with the Detroit-based pop group Gallery, whose "Nice to Be With You" hit No. 4 on the Billboard pop music chart in 1972.

"Mike Novack, who played guitar in Gallery, was the first to hear me," Blackwood said. The feeling on stage "was wonderful, fantastic. I felt a freedom that I sometimes got with acting, though it was different. While you listen in much the same way, there's a greater creative freedom to improvise with singing."

After graduating from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., with a degree in English--"I also did a lot of plays there"--Blackwood went to New York, began studying with the renowned acting teacher Uta Hagen and happened into a job as a blues singer. The band, ultimately called the Business of Blues, worked some good rooms like the Lone Star and Augie's, and for six years Blackwood made his living as a singer, not an actor.

In 1990, Blackwood decided to try his hand at acting in Los Angeles, and here he formed the Steve Blackwood Blues Band, working clubs like St. Mark's in Venice. When he finally grew tired of the blues, he tackled standards, doing them, as Sinatra might say, his way.

"I started sitting in at Chadney's about a year ago, singing in my own voice," not copying anyone, says Blackwood, who now lives in Burbank with his wife, Karen. "I was scared to death because it was a new thing for me, but I did it. People like Karen Hernandez and Earl Palmer were very supportive and it led to the gigs I'm doing now."

While he has no plans to abandon his acting career, Blackwood is thrilled with the way his singing is developing. "I'm having a ball," he said. "Musically, I'm doing something for myself, not for someone else, and that's a very freeing thing for me."

* Steve Blackwood sings from 7 to 11:30 tonight at Monteleone's West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food / drink minimum. Information: (818) 996-0662.


Back on Track: After battling serious illness, composer-arranger Tom Talbert is active again. On Tuesday, he will be making his first appearance in 18 months with his orchestra, and singing-great Stephanie Haynes, at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

Talbert, 72, whose music mixes influences as diverse as Duke Ellington and Debussy, will perform new pieces, such as "That Harlem Express," dedicated to great swing-era band leader Jimmie Lunceford.

"When I heard [Lunceford's] band play the tune 'Harlem Express' live, I about levitated," Talbert said. "My piece starts with a couple of bars of the original, and then I just take off from there with my own stuff, changing the piece the way Stravinsky might."

Talbert has also expanded his band, adding another French horn to the ensemble. "It's like having a strip of velvet in the center," he said.

* Tom Talbert and his orchestra, with singer Stephanie Haynes, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; $13 cover for 7:30 p.m. show, $9 cover for 9:30 p.m.; $9.95 food or drink minimum; (818) 788-2000.

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