Well, I'm finally back home and thanks to online columnist ClaireVoyant (www.lvol.com/gossip) I know where to go for my Great American Songbook fix in Las Vegas -- not all the Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas with their world music or Beatles tribute on the Strip -- but out in the neighborhoods where the small shows are.
On Wednesday, July 18, extraordinary entertainer Nelson Sardelli (www.nelsonsardelli.com) hosted the 3rd anniversary luncheon for his wonderful F.I.O.R.E. (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events) "non-club" -- where every member is "President" and women aren't allowed :( Fortunately, I had just gotten home from L.A. and for this luncheon, women were invited guests. Nelson's parties are always great and this one was standing room only at the Take One club downtown. When we arrived, Nelson was singing (I still haven't seen him do any gun tricks) with the Gary Olds Trio -- sitting in were Artie Schroeck on vibes & Dr. George Ritter on saxophone. Fabulous saxophonist Don Hill (musical director for the Treniers for over 40 years) had planned on sitting in but he had torn his retina and isn't allowed to play for 6-8 weeks. Nelson always invites his guests to sit in with the band -- and it's such a treat to not only hear wonderful vocalists -- it's also a treat to sing with such a great group of musicians (yup, I sat in and sang Jerome Kern's Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man O' Mine from Showboat for a couple that was celebrating their 58th anniversary). Other vocalists joining the band included Linda November, Loretta St. John, Paul Xavier Campanella, Gary Anthony (doing Frank Sinatra), a Dolly Parton tribute artist & Sweet Louie from The Checkmates! Be sure and RSVP for Nelson's next function at www.nonclubclubfiore.com!
Saturday night (July 21) I headed up to the gorgeous Starbright Theatre at Sun City Summerlin to see the fabulous Fifth Avenue quartet with songstress Lisa Smith joining them...and what a wonderful show they put on -- jazzy harmonizers Rob Hyatt, Jerry Jones, Jeff Celentano and Bryce Robinson provided a veritable history of quartet singing as they strolled down memory lane doing tributes to barbershoppers (Coney Island Baby), Dixieland (vocalesing a 5-piece band was extraordinary!), the 40's (Sing, Sing, Sing & Woody Herman's Four Brothers), 50's doo-wop (Blue Moon), the Hi-Los ( My Sugar is so Refined) and Manhattan Transfer (Up Up & Away) - along with their personal Italian favorites from their days working as gondoliers at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip. Although the music was taped, they did have fabulous arrangements - the West Side Story arrangement had been done by the incomparable Bill Fayne. Lisa joined them on It's All Right With Me and with her own all-girl trio (Dangerous Curves) she did an original song lamenting the state of love in today's society. Fifth Avenue also did an original song that was lamenting a lost love in Summer is the Coldest Time of Year. Other well-known standards were given the "Fifth Avenue" treatment -- and made fresh and marvelous -- including Come Rain or Come Shine, How High The Moon, That's Amore & There Will Never Be Another You. Producer Michael Chapman did a wonderful job staging the quartet so that there were lots of different "looks" -- not easy to do with a bare stage and four microphone stands. Every song was a standout -- but Lisa Smith & Rob Hyatt's duet on Let This Be Our Prayer in both Italian and English and Something's Comin' from West Side Story were the most dramatic songs in the fabulous evening of jazz and vocalese. They're currently recording a new album and were selling their current album, 4 The Fun of It at the theatre. You can check it out at their website: www.fifthavejazz.com
On Sunday night (July 22), I headed up to the Suncoast Casino to see "Gershwin Sings Gershwin" a lavish production of Gershwin songs sung by George & Ira Gershwin's niece, Alexis Gershwin, six backup singers and a fabulous eight-piece band led by director Steven Applegate and pianist Steve Rawlins from Los Angeles. The rest of the musicians were some of the best Las Vegas has including the wonderful Bob Sachs on bass, Joe Lano on guitar, Tommy Check on drums, Walt Boenig on trombone, Jay Rasmussen on sax/clarinet/flute, Bobby Hamilton & Tommy Porrello on trumpets. The arrangements and the musicians were the best part of this show -- the backup singers (Alistair Tober, Jonathan Redford, Cynthai Marty, Jennifer Wilcover, lisa Dyson & Ali Spuck) were the next best thing and Alexis, well -- if Marilyn Monroe had lived to sing in her seventies -- then this is probably what she would have sounded like. She wore the pink gown and long gloves that Marilyn wore in Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend (& Madonna wore in Material Girl) and used the same sexy, breathy singing that Marilyn used.
The show opened with 'S Wonderful, It's Nice Work If You Can Get It, How Long Has This Been Goin' On, They Can't Take That Away From Me, The Man I Love & I've Got A Crush on You. The next segment had some more obscure Gershwin songs including Soon, Isn't It A Pity (dueting with Alistair Tober), Naughty Baby (complete with boas for all the girls) & Stairway to Paradise (the Gershwin Singers production number - with fairly simplistic "movement" -- one couldn't really call it choreography). Unusual arrangements included a more contemporary rock 'n' roll sound for Fascinatin' Rhythm (done by just Alexis, Alistair & Jonathan), a medley combining But Not For Me with Love Walked Right In, an uptempo Embraceable You and a Caribbean feel for It Ain't Necessarily So. Another segment included songs that Ira wrote the lyrics for with other composers including Jerome Kern (Long Ago & Far Away), Vernon Duke (I Can't Get Started With You) & Harold Arlen (The Man That Got Away). The 90 minute show had 21 songs and felt long since Alexis' voice tired as the show went on -- and so the closing songs such as Summertime, They All Laughed & Someone To Watch Over Me were missed by many in the audience who simply left early (she had placed the last song that the George & Ira collaborated on - Our Love Is Here To Stay in the middle of the show and many folks left after that thinking the show was over).
The Gershwin Sings Gershwin show would be so much better served if they featured the Gershwin Singers individually doing songs and Alexis singing just a few songs (perhaps 4-6 songs in the evening instead of 20). In my opinion, the show should have opened with the Stairway to Paradise production number and then Alexis should focus more on telling stories about the people and the music that only a family member would know (she spoke a little of weekly dinners at Ira's home where she would meet stars such as Oscar Levant) -- one of the best moments was when she sang a completely unknown verse - which was rejected by a show's director which Ira then rewrote -- and became the familiar verse to Long Ago & Far Away for the show Cover Girl in 1944. For upcoming cities and pix, visit www.alexisgershwin.com
Now that I'm home, I have to go check out the latest jazzy spots in Vegas -- I've been hearing about the new Just Jazz club (that took over the old Keys cabaret) and thanks to ClaireVoyant, I'm going to go check out the Songwriters Showcase this Tuesday at the Liberace Museum. See you where the jazz is!