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Another Great Communicator : Jazz singer Gayiel Von, whose career was propelled by a robber, isn’t afraid to venture into pop, old rock or musical theater.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times. </i>

Gayiel Von doesn’t have to jog her memory to recall when she decided to become a full-time singer. It was the traumatic night in early 1987 when a man stole her car at knifepoint.

“I had been singing at a club on Melrose, and on the way home, I stopped for gas, and this man held a knife on me and told me to get into my car,” said Von, speaking without emotion during a phone conversation from her home in Hollywood.

Von, who was working in the aerospace industry as a screw inspector during the day and singing at night, recalled thinking, “If this guy kills me, I’ll have ended my life working in a screw factory.”

The man finally let her out and made off with her car and her purse--but not her musical arrangements, which she had calmly demanded. By that time, she had made up her mind to quit her day job.

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“I realized all I wanted was to sing and do music,” she said.

That’s exactly what Von, a native of Sacramento who moved to Los Angeles in 1979, has done. Soon after the robbery, she started a long-term engagement at Romeo and Juliet’s in Beverly Hills (now home to 435 North), where she honed her style.

“I started out singing jazz, but I became an entertainer. I want to communicate with my audience,” said the artist, who appears tonight and Saturday and Nov. 13 and 14 at Monteleone’s West in Tarzana.

There’s still a good deal of jazz and blues influence in her work, Von said, but she’ll choose her material from any genre, be it old rock, musical theater or pop standards. “I like music that has a point to make, something that I’m committed to emotionally,” she said.

Von, who possesses a lyrical alto voice, said a typical set might include such standards as “Green Dolphin Street” or “Lush Life,” a blues tune like “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” a pop piece like “I’ve Never Been to Me” and one of her poems--she’s been writing them for 20 years--set to the thump-thump-thump of a walking bass.

“But you won’t hear ‘Feelings’ or ‘New York, New York,’ and I’ve quit doing requests,” she said. “I’m not common. If that sounds a little arrogant, I’ll live with it,” she added, quickly laughing.

As she emphasized, Von likes her material to get through to her listeners. “What I’d like is to have people walk out knowing a little bit more about themselves,” she said. “I like to make people laugh, make them think and make them feel something, touch them on a real emotional level. I like to see men shed a tear.”

Born into a family that patronized musical theater, Von took acting, ballet and music classes as a child. She acted in the Bay Area, and, although she longed to, did not sing in public until she moved to Southern California.

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“I was working as talent booker, waitress and bartender at a defunct room in Westwood called the Red Log, and one night, toward closing, I asked if I could sit in,” Von recalled. “After my number, the owner said, ‘Hey, you can sing. You’ve got your own show in two weeks.’ ”

Von said it took her a while to get into the swing of things--"I didn’t even know how to count off a tune"--but she kept at it, sitting in at numerous clubs and eventually landing other engagements, including performances at Monteleone’s.

“Gayiel can certainly put a song across, but she’s also a great personality,” said Tom Monteleone, who owns the room. “If someone shouts out a smart remark, she’s got a witty answer. She’s a classy, all-around performer.”

These days, Von works a lot. She recently took part in an ensemble show called “Something Blue,” which ran several Sundays and Mondays at the Cinegrill in Hollywood. She also traveled to Chicago to be the featured entertainer at a Harlequin Romance Writers of America convention.

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Still, she admitted that she’s nervous about the current economic climate. “The music business is the most screwed up it’s ever been,” she said. “I’m just doing the best I can.”

Where and When Who: Gayiel Von, accompanied by pianist Dick Tash, bassist Ernie McDaniel and drummer Mel Lee. Location: Monteleone’s West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. Hours: 9 and 10:30 tonight and Saturday, and Nov. 13 and 14. Price: No cover, two-drink minimum per show. Call: (818) 996-0662.


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