Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A National Treasure

I went to see whisper vocalist-jazz pianist Page Cavanaugh at the Van Nuys, Calif. intime boite, Charlie O's, last night. During the mid-1940s to early-'50s, Cavanaugh was more of a household name than he is this century. Musically, he is perhaps most well-remembered today for having supported Doris Day in her first motion picture, Romance on the High Seas. At the time, Cavanaugh was such a big deal, Day's heart must've skipped a beat when she learned she would be sharing screen space with him.

Cavanaugh was at the crest of his popularity when he appeared in that 1948 film. And while, as the decades have worn on, some of his national notoreity may have diminished a bit, there is little room for disagreement that at age 83---"Godamned, that's old," he said to the audience at one juncture--- Cavanaugh is absolutely at the peak of all his powers. Not just pianistically and vocally, but also as a wonderful diseur who, between---and sometimes even during---numbers, imparts a steady steam-of-consiouness supply of tales of his more than sixty years in show business. Most of which are probably better heard first-hand than repeated in print. However, one of his asides during a intentionally hokey passage at the keyboards, "A little cathouse piano never hurt anyone," should give you some idea of the rarified piquancy of Cavanaugh's patter.

At the time, last night, I hadn't necessarily planned to write about Cavanaugh herein, so I didn't even bother to write down a set list, but much of what he sang and played were expected old favorites such as "Nina Never Knew" and "Lulu's Back in Town." The latter was performed at the behest of an audience member who called it out as a request. "Goodness," Cavanaugh shouted back in response, "I haven't performed that since World War One." He then, of course, launched into a beautiful vocal rendition of the Mel Torme standby.

I would also like to add that Page's tasty drummer, David Tull, is a terrific jazz vocalist, the male species of which is in especially short supply these days. Think Mel Torme but with Bing Crosby's much butcher voice---headtones begone!---and without the former's show-offy tendencies. In other words, I didn't have to make a scat arrest. Several other fine singers were in the audience last night, including Mark Miller, Sam Graham, Pinky Winters and Betty Bryant, and if you'd dropped a bomb on the place. . .. Well, I don't even like to think about it.

Tull sang one of his own songs, in addition to another vocal solo whilst still holding down the drum slot. A number about the vicissitudes of airplane flight post-9/11, and I don't think I have ever before witnessed---as I did last night---an entire audience fall out of their collective chairs as one. All I can add is, "Dave Frishberg, look out!."

As I understand it, this was the first of regular Monday night appearances by Cavanaugh at Charlie O's. Not quite sure of the periodicity, but I'll find out and mark it as a regular event on my calendar. If you live in the area and would like to do the same, here's the phone number for Charlie O's: 818-994-3058. Ring 'em up and ask, "When'll Page Cavanaugh be back?"

Here's a good net bio of Page Cavanaugh. AND a link to amazon.com and one of a half-dozen of his CDs for sale at that shop-naked site.

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