Some kind of poetic conjunction will occur when jazz singer Diane Hubka performs a recital at Pasadena Presbyterian Church Saturday. Though she works as the church’s accountant, what makes the pairing compelling is her lovely sound set in a sanctuary known for its majestic high-ceilinged acoustics.
Hubka has a medium-dynamic alto voice with an unmistakable sparkle. Her tone is bell-like in its clarity and her diction is impeccable. Listeners can understand her no matter how brisk the tempo of the music.
As a result, Hubka acts as something of an X-ray machine for songs. Dimitri Tiompkin and Ned Washington’s “Wild is the Wind,” on her current album, “Diane Hubka Goes to the Movies” (18th & Vine Records), is a case in point. It contains the line: “Give me more than one caress, satisfy my hungriness....” From any other singer, the grammatical fudging to achieve a rhyme might not be so glaring. Still, she has the ability to put her stamp on any song she essays.
The album is a well-chosen collection of movie songs that skirt the obvious.
“I tend to like more obscure songs that are at least as good as the well-known standards,” she discloses. “Blossom Dearie’s ‘They Say It’s Spring,’ Billy Strayhorn’s ‘A Flower is a Lovesome Thing’ and ‘Moon Ray’ by Artie Shaw.’ There are so many great songs that just aren’t sung.”
A SoCal resident since 2004, Hubka was raised in Western Maryland. One of the dividends of her two decades in New York City was personal instruction from vocal jazz legend Sheila Jordan. The unclassifiable Jordan raised a daughter as a single mother and maintained her singing while working in an office.
“She told me, ‘Don’t ever let anybody make you feel bad because you have a day job,’” Hubka recalls. “‘You do whatever you have to do to keep your music going.’ I never forgot that.”
Saturday’s concert, a benefit for the church, will find Hubka in the company of guitarist/reed player Dan Sawyer, pianist Joe Bagg, bassist Jeff D’Angelo and drummer Sinclair Lott.
Sawyer’s resume as a vocal accompanist includes work with Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, Melissa Manchester and Al Jarreau — he jokingly refers to himself as “the divas’ guitar player.” Sawyer appreciates Hubka’s creative instincts. “Musically,” he says, “we’re on the same level. She has a really nice, conversational quality to her voice, her phrasing is very natural and there’s an effortlessness that comes across. And,” he pauses to emphasize, “she sings in tune.”
Her background as an instrumentalist earns Sawyer’s respect. Hubka sometimes accompanies herself on guitar. Her solo reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Manhã de Carnaval” is a study in solitary soulful expression.
“I like the fact that she’s self-contained,” Sawyer notes. “She plays a 7-string guitar — one with an extra bass string — so she can get booked as a single. She plays the bass lines and chords for herself while she sings — that’s not easy to do.”
Hubka looks at her New York years as exciting. “The East Coast energy is different,” she maintains. “I think everyone ought to live in New York for a few years.”
Told of transplanted jazz singer Cathy Segal Garcia’s dictum for creative musicians — “In New York you have to find your place on the wheel; in L.A. you have to invent the wheel” — Hubka laughs. “It’s hard everywhere,” she concedes. “At least here I can get a tan.”
Regarding Hubka’s modus operandi, Sawyer adds: “Diane has a real jazz attitude. She doesn’t rehearse too much; she likes to go out there and see what happens.”
KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.
Where: Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.
When: Saturday, Aug. 25,
Info: (626) 793-2191