Nancy Celeste Walker in Big Bear Lake, CA
What Big Bear Lake lacks in regular jazz performance it makes up for in natural beauty, but on August 8, the two came together in "Jazz on the Green," a tribute to Nat King Cole. Benefiting the local zoo, the two hour concert seated 130 people (one for each tree) on the lawn of the Inn at Fawnskin, a log cabin bed and breakfast on the north shore of the lake.
Before the vocalist joined them, the musicians got the crowd to themselves for a couple of numbers, the first being a ten minute "The Way You Look Tonight." These guys have played together in various combinations over the years, and their familiarity with each other shows. The players were John Bolivar on flute, tenor sax and baritone sax, Drummer Paul Kreibick, bassist Paul Gormley and pianist Dick Shreve.
Based in Orange County, Bolivar has performed and toured with such stars as B. B. King, Lou Rawls and Aretha Franklin. Angelenos might've seen the other three musicians around town: Kreibick is a native of Los Angeles, and has been associated with many great performers Conte Condoli, Anita O'Day and Carmen McRae, to name a few. Check out his latest recordings, The Jazz Coop and Lonesome Tree. Gormley is a regular on the L. A. club circuit as well, being a five-time member of the L.A. Classic Jazz Festival All Stars. In addition to working with persona like Woody Herman, Anita O'Day and Alan Broadbent, he's earned numerous TV and film credits. Shreve is a former house pianist of the L.A. Playboy Club, and has recorded with the likes of Benny Goodman, Buddy Colette and Carmen McRae.
Ms. Walker took to the stage with great deliveries of "I'm an Errand Boy for Rhythm," "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?"...and then came some real magic. As dusk was falling, the stage lights intensified, the white lights strung between the trees came into focus a little more, and the lake glistened across from the Inn. The band began "Nature Boy," during which we all probably became a little more aware of our lovely surroundings and the gift of music we were receiving. The flute and piano glissandi really captured the ethereality of the piece. Walker studied cabaret for a time in Italy, and it comes across in story songs like this and others: "Lush Life" was rendered so wonderfully that she could've slowed it down even more, just to let us live with her in that world a little longer. And she got to express her love of French with gusto on "Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup."
On some songs, such as "You Call It Madness (But I Call It love)," you heard a hint of Rosemary Clooney, with her rich, relaxed vibrato.
The band played numerous King Cole hits, but there were some definite highlights. After a sassy "The Frim Fram Sauce" and a nearly flawless, laid-back performance of "Unforgettable," the band crept into "The Very thought of you," whose beautiful instrumental solos put the audience in 'kind of a daydream.'
Throughout the set, Walker shared many stories about Cole, and you could tell she enjoyed talking about him. By the end of the evening, you got the feeling that her vocal style was like the lady, warm and straightforward. Like most of the group, she has performed extensively in L.A. area venues, including the Westwood Marquis Hotel and Manhattan Bar & Grill.
I eavesdropped on the band after the show and heard them telling an audience member, "We've worked with a lot of singers, and she really knows what she's doing." Considering the company they've kept, that's quite a compliment.
Nancy runs the Inn at Fawnskin with her husband, and one of their mottoes is "Come as a stranger, leave as a friend."
For more information, you can visit www.fawnskininn.com