A while back, I happened by Casey's Tavern in Canoga Park on a Saturday night and was treated to the relaxed vocal work of Evelyn Fiorani. She works the chatty, cozy bar each week with her band, Evie and All That Jazz.
Fiorani doesn't have a big voice, but she sure can sing. That Saturday, she put a lot of spirit into such songs as "More Than You Know"--her body loose as she sang, her words delivered almost conversationally. Even some of the younger patrons, who looked more like Alanis Morissette or Jakob Dylan fans than standards buffs, listened attentively, and when Fiorani took a break, they applauded enthusiastically, right along with those of us old enough to be their parents.
"I've always liked to sing," said Fiorani, a Saturday night mainstay at Casey's since 1994. "It probably shows that I'm enjoying myself, and if the people see you're having a good time, it's easier for them to relax and enjoy themselves too."
Fiorani has been performing since she was 4: She sang with her accordion-playing brother and sister in a family act called the Ross Trio in her native Glassport, Pa. Then when she was 10 and her family moved to Detroit, Fiorani sang with a teenage big band, and, after settling in the Valley in 1956, appeared in numerous musicals with the Burbank Civic Light Opera.
Her nightclub career began with sit-ins at places like the long-gone-but-still-remembered Ram's Horn in Encino, where she was backed by the noted pianist Jimmy MacDonald.
She got her first leading job at Skoby's in Northridge in 1988. "I had a singing machine that played tapes," she said, in a conversation from her Woodland Hills home earlier this week. "This was before karaoke. I had guests, too, and we'd pack them in."
Fiorani left Skoby's about the time owners Jean and Lee Casey were looking for a new Saturday night band. "I told them that I liked all kinds of music, from jazz and Dixieland to standards, even rock and country," she said. "I guess the Caseys thought it was a good idea because I'm still there."
The singer names such favorites as Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page, Peggy Lee and Patsy Cline, and noted that current jazz vocal phenom Diana Krall has grabbed her ear. Fiorani's repertoire reflects her influences.
Among her selections this Saturday might be "Someone to Watch Over Me"; "Well All Right, OK, You Win," thumping blues that qualifies as rock in her book; a jazz song like "Lullaby of Birdland" ("I like the rhythm") and the Cline classic, "Crazy."
"Seems like somebody always plays that one on the jukebox after I've sung it," she said.
Fiorani doesn't neglect to credit the fine musicians who work with her. "Without them, I'd have to get the tapes out," she said, laughing.
Fiorani's regulars include Lloyd Hebert, piano; Jim Bates, bass; Don Dupree, saxophone and clarinet; Jerry Case, guitar; and Billy Paul, drums. Sometimes the singer picks up an instrument too. "I play guitar and piano, and drums for the heck of it," she said. "I'm no drummer, but I can keep a beat."
Big Brass Blow: The buttery-toned trombonist Bob McChesney is mostly heard as an occasional soloist with such ace big bands as those led by Bill Holman and Bob Florence. Tonight is a chance to hear this amiable fellow in less-cluttered surroundings, as he fronts a quartet from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one-drink minimum per show;  843-5333).
You might say it's a long brass weekend at the room, with trombonist Bill Watrous arriving Friday, and trumpeters Buddy Childers, Jack Sheldon and Paul Cacia (celebrating his birthday with his gregarious big band) on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, respectively. All play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., save Sheldon, who is in with the grand pianist Ross Tompkins from 7:30-11:30 p.m.
On a nonbrass note, the forward-looking, ever-adventurous ex-Miles Davis pianist Kei Akagi plays Chadney's on Wednesday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Thumper: Armand Sabal-Lecco, the jazz/fusion bassist from Cameroon who has lived in Los Angeles for ages, always has something interesting at the tip of his fingers. An acknowledged influence on both Paul Simon and saxophonist Michael Brecker, both of whom he has recorded with, Sabal-Lecco plays Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at the Baked Potato (3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood; $10 cover, two-drink minimum;  980-1615).
* Evelyn Fiorani leads Evie and All That Jazz on Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Casey's Tavern, 22029 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, no cover or minimum, (818) 992-9362.