Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill and Trio
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street
production web site: http://metropolitanroom.com/show.cfm?id=82335
June 2, 2011 — June 12, 2011
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 3, 2011
My tastes for straight ahead jazz and straight ahead, no bells and whistles jazz vocalists began long ago in my childhood living room. Mom and Dad loved the standards — Dad leaned more toward Dixieland and Mom loved the vocalists and the standards in song. 78s and LPs were abundant and I grew up knowing the range of vocal styles, from popular to more obscure. I learned that I loved vocalists who told me a story and communicated with me so that I felt it, rather than emoting at me and vocalizing for their own entertainment.
I found Wesla Whitfield in my own young adulthood some decades ago. She embodies for me the best of that story paring and communicating form of singing I learned to appreciate as a child, telling a story in song in her own distinct style. I first encountered her at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh sometime in the mid 1990s. I then attended a performance in New York City in the late 1990s, visited her homebase at the Plush Room in San Francisco several times some years later while that venue was still around, and enjoyed her contribution on one of two nights in June 1998 celebrating Judy Garland‘s 1961 concerts at Carnegie Hall. I own many of her recordings and the treatment of Mercer and Arlen and other master tunesmiths on them are truly treasured in my household. Like Mabel Mercer before her, her treatment of these song treasures is not about pyrotechnics but rather a certain wisdom in the delivery of the architecture and emotional heartbeat of a tune.
Last night at the Metropolitan Room here in my new hometown of Manhattan, I was treated to a set list that charmed, surprised, entertained, moved. Delivering this wisdom along with Wesla for this gig are her husband and pianist Mike Greensill, John Wiitala on bass, and Ray Marchiaca on drums. From “Oliver!” to Sesame Street, from Patsy Cline midnight walks to Noel Coward‘s sweet lovesick yearnings, from “You Must Believe in Spring” (which always brings to mind Cleo Laine‘s concert treatment of that gem at Carnegie Hall and Wesla makes her own this evening) to “Happy as the Day is Long”.
From my booth before the set begins, I eavesdrop on some enthusiastic jazz and Wesla fans sitting near me. One gentleman observes to another: “She always sings the verse. She shows how the song is built.” A few tunes into her verse-adorned set, Wesla quotes a friend in patter addressing the various theories about whom Noel Coward wrote her next tune “Mad About The Boy”: “It doesn’t matter about whom he wrote it. What matters is that he wrote it.”
What matters here is that Wesla Whitfield is singing for us in Manhattan for another week at the Metropolitan Room. You miss something seriously great if you miss this fine talent live.
© Martha Wade Steketee (June 4, 2011)