JAZZ REVIEW : Vocalist Trudy Desmond Connects at the Cinegrill


Telling a story is not always a high priority element for jazz singers. Rapid-fire scat singing, instrumental-like timbres and melodic variations usually take precedence over the inner probing of message in a song’s lyrics.

Trudy Desmond, who opened a three-night run at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Thursday, is a rare exception. Although her style is not similar to that of Billie Holiday, she clearly understands Lady Day’s direct, pointed, sometimes painfully intimate way of connecting with a song.

Her version of “Gypsy in My Soul,” for example, underscored the words with a floating melodic line tinged with subtle changes in tone and emphasis. With another standard, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” she took the risky move of avoiding the familiar up-tempo interpretation and rendering it, instead, as a sensual ballad.


She found equally fascinating moments in other ballads: a contained, cameo-like “Inch Worm”; a poignant “I Have Dreamed”; a moving, perfectly blended medley of “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “I’m Naive.”

Desmond’s up-tempos were a bit more problematic. “Too Close for Comfort” swung with an easy, rolling momentum, and she was brightly humorous with “At the Codfish Ball,” a bouncy, pun-drenched tune from a Shirley Temple movie. Other fast numbers, however, especially at the breakneck tempos applied to “Just One of Those Things,” pushed Desmond into uncomfortably rapid articulation.

Fortunately, much of her program consisted of a carefully crafted, well-balanced collection of the slow and middle tempo tunes that are her most eloquent form of expression. And when Desmond has the right material to work with, she can tell a story that is underscored with the rhythm and the urgency of jazz, and performed with the focused, understated passion of Billie Holiday.

She was accompanied by a trio--Ted Rosenthal, piano, Neil Swainson, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums--that was both supportive and contributory, juxtaposing their hard-swinging drive against Desmond’s smooth-as-honey vocals.

* Trudy Desmond at the Cinegrill in the Radisson Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., (213) 466-7000. $22, with two-drink minimum. Ends tonight. 8 p.m.