By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
February 25, 2012
Anyone who has listened to the music of The Manhattan Transfer ever since they debuted in 1975 will recognize the voice of Janis Siegel who sang lead on some of their biggest hits, such as “Birdland”, “Operator” and “Chanson D’Amour”. Along the way Siegel has established herself as a successful solo artist as well.
Friday night she demonstrated just why she is a nine-time Grammy winner, a 17-time Grammy nominee and a true original during Janis Siegel: New York Standard Time, at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Siegel has been singing professionally since the age of 12. She launched her solo career in 1982 and has since recorded eight albums including her most recentSketches of Broadway.
Involved in numerous collaborative projects she has most recently toured with Bobby McFerrin’sVoicestra, an improvisational vocal group, and participated in a tribute to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.
Accompanied by John DiMartino (a noted composer and arranger) on piano and Boris Koslov (also well known in jazz circles) on bass (both are members of the John DiMartino Trio), Siegel showed off her rich in texture, one-of-a-kind voice and inimitable phrasing in a program consisting of jazz-styled standards.
Appearing on stage dressed in a black sequined dress, wearing horned rimmed glasses and speaking in a distinctive Brooklyn accent, Siegel set the tone for an urbane evening of incomparable music that fulfilled the promise of her show’s title.
Considering her New York roots, it’s worth noting that at one point Siegel remarked at how impressed she was with the similarity between The Crystal Terrace (with its wall of windows overlooking Monument Circle) and the Allen Room (also featuring a wall of windows overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan skyline) at Lincoln Center.
Act 1 of Siegel’s show included “A Flower is a Lovesong Thing” by Billy Strayhorn and her remarkable scat singing abilities in “The Story of Lucy and Jesse” from Follies by Stephen Sondheim.
Paying tribute to her hometown, she also sang “I Know the Way to Brooklyn” by Lorraine Feather. The tune featured solos by DiMartino and Koskov, which were frequent during Siegel’s show and which showcased their top-notch talents and musical skills.
A highlight of the show’s first half was Siegel’s tender rendition of “I Saw the Midnight Sun” by Johnny Mercer, during which she mimicked the sound of a trumpet with her voice.
During Act 2, Siegel further demonstrated her elevated musical tastes and versatility by performing “This Is New” by Kurt Weill. She also sang Weill’s “It Never Was You” from Knickerbocker Holiday, during which Koskov played his string bass with a bow during a lovely solo.
Turning her voice into a brass instrument once again, Siegel amazingly replicated the sound of a muted trumpet during “You Can Close Your Eyes” by Fred Hirsch with lyrics by Siegel.
Later, in a tour-de-force performance, Siegel effortlessly sang the vocalese lyrics of Lee Morgan and Jon Hendricks’ classic piece, “The Sidewinder”.
Evoking the sound and feel of a Havana nightclub of yesteryear with its bolero rhythms, Siegel closed the evening with a sensual version of “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” (or Green Eyes), a famous Cuban love song.
Siegel’s two-day run will conclude Saturday at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club. For tickets and information call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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