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Voicing Her True Love

Vocalist resumes career with show of jazz-style tunes and ballads at Chadney's.


Lainie Cooke has a song in her repertoire by the great pianist Jimmy Rowles called "Don't Quit Now." The lyrics are about the rewards of perseverance, and Cooke knows from personal experience that they speak the truth.

Twice in her career, Cooke has taken lengthy hiatuses from singing: once in the '60s, when the English invasion turned pop music on its head, and in the '80s, when opportunities for work became scarce. But she's discovered she loathes how she feels when not performing--she's long made her main living as a commercial voice-over artist--and she's taking another shot at her first love.

"I felt an enormous sense of disappointment in myself that I hadn't stayed the course, that somehow I had failed my own dream," said Cooke, a petite woman with a powerhouse voice, talking about the times when she didn't sing.

"Lately, I felt that if I was ever going to fulfill that dream, I had to do it now. It helped that there's now an audience for the kind of jazz-influenced songs I do, what with people like Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney doing so well. But most important was that I found music was still in my throat and heart and it still made me happy."

Cooke, a New York resident who lived in Los Angeles from 1979-82, appears tonight and Friday at Chadney's in Burbank. She talked about what it feels like to sing, about singing's potential for deep and moving moments.

"When I'm on the bandstand, I'm sharing the basic essence of who I feel am," she said.

"There, I'm a totally open instrument, open to any musical suggestion that comes along. At the same time, I have to focus on what I am singing about. As corny as it sounds, it can be like going into another world. There have been times when I really felt the music was singing me, that I was the instrument for it. That's pure excitement, with 'pure' being the operative word."

Cooke is no stranger to singing. She started professionally in her native Minneapolis when she was 7, and toured with local swing bands at 14. But when she landed in New York in 1961, work as a voice-over artist came easier than work as a vocalist.

Still, there were engagements at the Copacabana and Sweetwaters, and, when she lived in Los Angeles, at Carmelo's, Le Caf and the Money Tree. The highlight of her career, she said, was participating in a Gershwin marathon in the late '80s sponsored by the Buffalo (N.Y.) Philharmonic, and receiving a standing ovation.

"One reason I stopped singing was that I couldn't make something like that happen again," she said.

At Chadney's, Cooke will be backed by the ace team of pianist Dick Shreve and bassist Bob Maize. The program will include some Gershwin tunes, some selections that Sinatra sang, like "Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and some jazz-tinged tunes, such as "Don't Quit Now" and "Small Day Tomorrow."

Ballads will definitely be spotlighted. "They have so much heart," she said.

Cooke is glad she came back to singing.

"I wasn't sure I would be able to do it," she said. "But nobody can ever know for sure what's ahead. If you have a part of yourself that you really believe in, you owe it to yourself and the people that love you not to give up."

* Lainie Cooke sings tonight and Friday, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show; (818) 843-5333.


Dixie for Lunch: Want a hearty wallop of "When the Saints" or "Tiger Rag" to wash down that burger and fries? Then saunter over to Crazy Jack's (4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; no cover, no minimum; [818] 845-1121), where trombonist Steve Hope leads a rigorous cast through Dixieland classics each Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. What a dandy way to pass a midday hour.


Good Old Days: For another version of the well-remembered past, check out Abe Most, one of the finest Benny Goodman-influenced clarinetists ever, and his brother, the superb bebop-based flutist and saxophonist Sam Most. They appear Saturday at Chadney's, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., no cover, one-drink minimum as above.

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