It's hard not to sound like a reactionary old fogey in reviewing Rosemary Clooney. Now in the midst of her latest gig at Feinstein's at the Regency, this irreplaceable artist is one of very few remaining from the golden era of American popular music--a time when great songwriters crafted unforgettable melodies and words to be performed by singers whose like will never be heard again.
To even attempt a comparison between a rap "song" and a ballad by Porter, Gershwin, or Arlen as sung by Rosemary Clooney is ridiculous. And though there remains a core of rabid enthusiasts for the kind of music represented by Clooney, there's no reason to believe that the pendulum of popular culture will ever swing back far enough to bring songs of that style and quality into the forefront once again. Those of us who care deeply about such matters can only bask in the artistry of the handful of performers remaining from the era when Top 40 hits were real music.
Clooney's current show at Feinstein's is titled Brazil, and it features much of the repertoire you'll find on her new Concord Jazz CD of the same title: e.g., "Corcovado," "Once I Loved," and "One Note Samba," all by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The lady is joined vocally on the last tune by John Pizzarelli, who provides his usual top-of-the-heap guitar playing throughout the show. (Pizzarelli and Michael Feinstein, the club's namesake, are rare examples of younger musicians who have made a real commitment to the peerless songs of yesteryear). Clooney also duets with "the little pizza" on the bouncy "DeSafinado" (Newton Ferreira de Mendonca) and "Let Go" (de Aquino-Gimbel). Meanwhile, Pizzarelli's solo vocal of Olveira, Gilbert, and Jobim's gorgeous "Dindi" is a highlight of the evening.
The presence of Tony Bennett in the audience at Feinstein's on Friday night, June 2, only sharpened one's sense of a vanishing era. "Tony, I lifted this next arrangement right off of Frank's album," Clooney publicly admitted to Bennett halfway through the show; then she launched into a samba-infused version of "I Concentrate on You" that was, indeed, closely based on a fabled Sinatra recording of that Cole Porter classic. The singer reached outside of the Brazilian gamut to offer a near-definitive reading of another Sinatra hit, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" (Mann-Hilliard), and a knowing rendition of Dave Frishberg's memorably amusing "Let's Eat Home." She closed with an up-tempo medley of three "it serves you right" songs--"I Cried for You," "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Goody, Goody"--that had the crowd bouncing off the walls.
Clooney's patter, based on self-deprecating anecdotes and sly asides, is as engaging as ever. Here, again, passing reference to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope remind us that there is no one to replace Bing Crosby, Bob Hope--or Rosemary Clooney.
In addition to Pizzarelli, the Brazil band consists of Glenn Drewes (brass), Mark Vinci (reeds), Jay Leonhart (bass), Joe Cocuzzo (drums), and Mauro Refosco (percussion)--the cream of the cream, all under the direction of John Oddo (who also plays piano). As for the singer herself, she is in her best current voice; there are problems with support, and the tone is not as warm as it was in the '50s, but Clooney's phrasing, interpretive abilities, and overall musicianship remain unparalleled. If there's any way you can get to Brazil by the final performance on June 10, do it.