Doesn't this sound like a scene from a movie? You're leading a vocal group in a Hollywood nightspot when a big-time pop singer comes in and asks you to work with her.
For pianist-composer-arranger-singer Red Young, that scenario took place in real, not reel, life. In 1983, he was fronting a jazz/pop band at a club in the Melrose district when Linda Ronstadt dropped in one night and asked Young to join her on her concerts. At the time, she was in her classic pop standards phase, recording and appearing with the renowned orchestrator and arranger Nelson Riddle.
"She wanted me to back her up on some up-tempo '40s tunes in the middle of the show," said Young, a native of Fort Worth, Tex., who now lives in Reseda. "So I arranged tunes like 'Choo Choo Ch'Boogie' and 'I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo' for her and four voices, including me, and Nelson wrote orchestral arrangements around what I had done. That was quite an honor."
Red and the Red Hots, Young's current band, was a result of his two years of touring with Ronstadt and Riddle, which included performances at the Universal Amphitheatre and as an HBO television special. The band works tonight and Saturday at Caffe Giuseppe in Northridge.
"I noted during the tour that there was a wide range of people, from teen-agers to grandmothers, who were interested in '40s vocal music," said Young, who has worked with Dolly Parton, Cher and Clyde McCoy. "This was an area that I felt the Manhattan Transfer had missed, and that wasn't strictly nostalgia, say, like someone like former Glenn Miller singer and saxophonist Tex Beneke. These songs were still good. People of my generation thought this was old people's music, but it wasn't. It was good music, period."
Young moved back to Fort Worth in 1985. "I wanted a place where I could experiment," he said. He decided to mix '40s pop pieces, such as "In the Mood," with jazz numbers, such as Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," or Juan Tizol's "Caravan." No tune written after 1950 was allowed.
These days, Young is much more flexible. The group still does the older material--a cassette tape he sells at his shows includes Monk's " 'Round Midnight" and Bobby Troup's "Route 66"--but he says he's adding newer, original material all the time. "That's more the direction I want to go. I like doing material that's really hard, and doing it with people who do it really well," he said.
Red and the Red Hots is composed of Lon Price, sax; Terry Burns, bass; Doug Mathews, drums, and Cassie Miller, Dina Bennett and Young, vocals. "I like the sound of three singers as opposed to four," said Young, who, with Burns and Mathews, also appears Wednesdays through Sundays at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks. "It gives the group a lighter feel, whereas four voices tends to sound more dated."
Young said he thinks his shows have a lot of pizazz and the broad appeal that was also a part of the performances of jazz giants Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan, two of Young's heroes. "Those guys were great players, but were very accessible; they'd draw people in with their personalities," Young said. "I try to do that, playing things like 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and then hitting the audience with the more esoteric stuff, like 'Night in Tunisia,' which they might not like if I gave it to them first."
David Arthur, the owner of Caffe Giuseppe, who has been booking Young for about five months, said, "Red's band is a pleasure to listen to. The singers are great, and their harmonies are so tight. I also like the people he brings in."
Young said that though he enjoys precise vocal arrangements, there's plenty of room for improvisation in his shows. "I write some strict parts, but there are open parts, too, for the instrumentals," he said. "Sometimes it feels like a big conversation on stage, where Lon will talk to me with his horn, and I'll answer back, and then Doug will say something. It's fun to get that going."
WHERE AND WHEN
What: Red Young and the Red Hots at Caffe Giuseppe, 18515 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge.
Hours: 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. tonight and Saturday (and again on May 21 and 22).
Price: No cover, no minimum.
Call: (818) 349-9090.
Also: 7 to 11:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays (until 12:30 a.m. Fri. and Sat.) at Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks,
Price: No cover, no minimum.
Call: (818) 788-2000.