October 29, 2010

Steve Tyrell in Concert

Music has always been a big part of our lives; both my husband and daughter live and breathe it, and while I don't have the knowledge or the talent they possess, I find magic in listening to music and watching it performed live.

One of our very first dates was a Ramsey Lewis concert at SMU's acoustically perfect McFarlin Auditorium. I may not have heard of him before that evening (you can forgive me...I was seventeen years old at the time), but I loved Earth, Wind & Fire, with whom he'd collaborated. Because I'd inherited my dad's love of jazz - he loved Pete Fountain and the entire New Orleans style of jazz - and because the piano is just about my favorite instrument (and I miss it in much of today's rock), I fell for Lewis's meld of R&B and jazz.

I mention the Ramsey Lewis concert because it occurred during fall of my freshman year. I may no longer be a freshman (does having a freshman count?), but we're smack dab in the middle of fall, and a Steve Tyrell concert more some 30 years later during the same time of year offers a certain symmetry that I find cozy.

I'd never heard of Steve Tyrell until we saw the remake of Father of the Bride. It, btw, is one of the few instances in which the re-make is as good as the original...the jury's still out on whether Father of the Bride II equals Father's Little Dividend, but as much as I liked The Way You Look Tonight from the first movie, his rendition of Give Me the Simple Life from the second captured my imagination, and when iTunes came to be several years later, Steve Tyrell was among the first few artists I downloaded.

Cut ahead many years on a long, long drive in Utah from Salt Lake City to a wilderness program in the middle of nowhere. We're listening to XM or Sirius radio on the rental car's radio of Steve Tyrell hosting a show about Burt Bacharach and playing cuts off his new CD, Back to Bacharach. By the time the show ended, we'd already stopped at a music store and bought it.

So when several weeks ago I heard about a Steve Tyrell concert on the radio, I called my husband, and as I'd hoped, he suggested I buy tickets. The concert was last night, at the historic Lakewood Theater, and it was oh-so lovely.

I hadn't realized until then that Tyrell began his career on the other side of the microphone way back when, working for Burt Bacharach, and that he only got into singing when producing the soundtrack for Father of the Bride. Apparently he recorded himself as filler and test audiences loved it so much that, in his 40s, he embarked on a new career as primarily an interpreter of the American Songbook.

I'm not sure I totally agree with his definition of a standard - using his logic both Highway to Hell and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah are standards - but he sure can sing 'em. And the musicianship of his band - the arranger/piano player, keyboardist, drummer, bassist, and guitarist - really, really tight. One of the reasons I'm blown away at jazz concerts is the level of musicianship and how seamless it sounds, even if they're riffing. My favorite rock bands also feature fabulous musicians, but their skill can sometimes get lost in the sound and the theatrics of a live show.

What I love about Tyrell, Mel Torme, Michael Feinstein, and even Michael Bublé - and what is sometimes missing in modern music - is the interpretation. I don't actually listen to standards for the lyrics; for me it's the song in its entirety, or in how a certain phrase is sung, a piano bridge played, or a mood evoked. Come to think of it, that's how I judge music of any era.

I feel kind of unique in that regard. I can listen to a song over and over and over simply to hear a sigh, a wail of a saxaphone (I also miss horns) at a certain moment, or when a singer's voice goes thready and it fits the lyrics perfectly. I've talked to my husband and daughter about this, and they don't quite understand, but in a way these small sounds do for me what music on a far larger scale does for them, and for that I'm grateful.

But back to this specific concert...Steve Tyrell created an intimate atmosphere just perfect for his song list. The stories he wove around the songs were filled with love, about his two careers in music, the people he's met and collaborated with, and the woman he giddily introduced as his wife-to-be. IIRC, his first wife, also in the biz, died several years ago after a lengthy bout with cancer. His long experience as a producer - his attention to sound levels, timing, and the overall production of each number - only added to the musicality of the evening. The only off note for me was a special encore he sang to a woman celebrating her 95th birthday; it was corny, cheesy, and a teensy bit creepy, but his heart was in the right place.

I've a lifetime of concerts to store in my aural memory, from Elton John in 1976 (I know the year because Kiki Dee was his opening act), the Electric Light Orchestra in or around 1978, Mel Torme at the 1981 Playboy Jazz Festival (and if anyone knows where I can put my hands on his version of Come On-a My House, please let me know), Billy Joel multiple times, Les Paul at Fat Tuesdays during almost annual pilgrimages to NYC in the mid-late 1980s, David Benoit and Earl Klugh in the early 90s, Maroon 5 a few years ago, to Steve Tyrell last night, with many others in-between. How very lovely.



Anonymous said...

Love Steve Tyrell and just recently discovered him on the online radio station, martiniinthemorning.com. It's also available on Itunes Radio under Golden Oldies. This is a great place for standards sung by new artists and classic artists. I've never heard a station like it! I stumbled upon it one day and it was like reading a DIK book.


Laurie Gold said...

Thanks for the 411. I'll check it out