Bringing Back Big Band : Nell Carter plans to shake the roof at Moonlight Tango Cafe, where the music is catching on with the younger generation.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Libby Slate is a regular contributor to The Times.

Bob Dylan as big-band music?

You bet, says Nell Carter. "He's written some of the most beautiful music," says the singer-actress. "My arrangements of his ballads are big band."

More conventional big-band fare will also be spotlighted when Carter takes the stage for a one-night, two-set appearance Tuesday at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks. She will be backed by Maiden Voyage, the 17-piece all-female big band headed by saxophonist Ann Patterson, which also performs its own numbers.

Although the exact program had not been set, "it will be safe to say that there will be Fats Waller and probably Count Basie," Carter said. "I might try to do 'Brown Penny,' a very difficult song I did in my 20s, and I'll do other Duke Ellington--probably 'Mood Indigo.' I'll also do music to make the roof shake."

Making the roof shake has been a Carter specialty since she first came to prominence with a sassy, high-voltage performance in the Fats Waller Broadway musical "Ain't Misbehavin'," for which she won a Tony Award in 1978. Although perhaps better known for her television work--six seasons on "Gimme a Break" and her current gig on ABC's "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper"--singing remains her first love. She performs almost every weekend, everywhere from Las Vegas and Atlantic City to cruises and fairs, and two years ago sang at the Academy Awards.

"I feel kind of special doing this," she said. "No matter what part of the business you want to be in, live performances are the most thrilling. And I'm very honored and flattered to sing at the Moonlight Tango. Most performers don't get a chance to sing in Los Angeles. People think you want a lot of money, but that's not so. It's exciting to sing in the place where you pay your taxes."

Her act will probably include some comedy as well, especially about marriage, a topic that elicits some colorful off-the-record remarks during the interview.

"I'm not very kind about marriage," admitted Carter, who is divorced and raising two 5-year-old adopted sons. "I will never get married again. I'm in love deeply, but there will be no marriage. I'm not stable enough."

Still, she said, "I'll be singing songs about love. I think love is second to water." Whatever the theme, the big-band sound "brings back an era of being carefree in times of trouble," Carter believes. "There were a lot of social problems, but it gave you a chance to bounce around, get into the beat, feel the notes."

Nowadays, the music draws listeners far too young to be nostalgic for that era, said Lenetta Kidd, Moonlight Tango general manager and producer of the series, now in its third year.

"It's amazing. There are 23-, 25-, 28-year-old people totally into the big-band sound," she said. "There's a whole resurgence. I think it's because rock and roll has gone as far as it can go. Rap was kind of the end of the road. . . . They're interested in hearing horns, melody, songs."

Added Ann Patterson, whose Maiden Voyage has played the Moonlight Tango two or three times a year since the big-band series' inception: "I think it appeals to younger people because it swings. It's kind of orchestral in a way, but it's also swinging music that combines the best elements of classical music and jazz. There's nothing like the sound of horns."

With Maiden Voyage credits including the Academy Awards Governors Ball and a recent Japanese tour, Patterson said Moonlight Tango is her favorite Los Angeles club in which to play.

"The musicians are treated with respect by the people who work there. It's very industry-oriented, so there are a lot of people in the audience who have had a lot of experience with this kind of music and appreciate it.

"It's intimate, so the band can be heard very well," she added. "And the waiters are very nice."



Who: Nell Carter and Maiden Voyage.

Location: Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8 and 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Price: $13 cover early show or $9 cover late show, plus $9.95 food and drink minimum.

Call: (818) 788-2000. Reservations suggested.

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