Personally, this sister can sing

Special to The Times

Roseanna Vitro is proud to wear the label of jazz singer. As a performer, educator and clinician, she is a dedicated advocate for the genre. “I like to think of myself, along with other female jazz singers, as members of a sisterhood,” she said Thursday night in her opening set at the Vic in Santa Monica.

A “sisterhood” of a common interest but of very different creative perspectives. The single quality that dominated Vitro’s performance (in which she was ably accompanied by pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Ralph Penland) was her highly personal view of what jazz singing is all about. And, with three decades of performing experience and 10 recordings to her credit, she’s had ample opportunities to discover, craft and refine that view.

Vitro’s voice is an extraordinarily versatile instrument. Her rendering of Randy Newman’s touching “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” for example, displayed a dark, honeyed sound, simmering with just enough edge to emphasize the song’s enigmatic lyrics. In other material, she moved easily from open-throated belting to growls, purrs and an occasional yodel.

Add to that an impressive capacity to invent paraphrases, especially in standards such as Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You.” Although Vitro also offered a few brightly swinging, instrumentally styled scat segments, she was far more compelling with the passages in which she remained in touch with a song’s lyrics, while spontaneously improvising her own, far-ranging variations on the melodies.


There were times when Vitro’s performances suggested the cool detachment of a master class -- all the pieces in place without the emotional undercurrent.

But in selections with a greater sense of creative and expressive tension -- the moodiness of the Newman ballad and the spirited high jinks of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” -- Vitro’s fully realized skills as a jazz singer finally broke through.