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Denise Donatelli and Janis Mann at Charlie O's, May 20, 2011

Chuck Koton By

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Denise Donatelli
Charlie O's
Van Nuys, CA
May 20, 2011
The Los Angeles area is blessed with the presence of many talented vocalists—drawn, no doubt, by both the Mediterranean climate and the abundance of studio work. In May, a pair of transplanted East Coast songbirds, Denise Donatelli and Janis Mann, warbled their way through several spirited and memorable sets at Charlie O's in the San Fernando Valley.
Donatelli, an Atlanta native whose recording, When Lights Are Low (Savant, 2010), was nominated for a Grammy this past year, stopped by the cozy jazz joint in Van Nuys one Friday night to belt out a few tunes and celebrate her birthday. Donatelli opened with a relaxed groove, swingin' slow on Duke Ellington's classic "In A Mellow Tone," picking up the pace with an up-tempo interpretation of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You." Pianist Andy Langham, bassist John Heard and drummer Kendall Kay churned up the rhythm, helping Donatelli grab hold of those in the audience with a limited attention span. Donatelli followed with a heartfelt ballad, "Never Let Me Go," that stirred everyone's memories of the great loves in their lives, doing so with sufficient authority to silence almost everyone in the club.
As intense and joyous an experience a couple of sets in a jazz club typically is, occasionally, a table of rude drunks—lost in their own world and oblivious to and disrespectful of the artists and the rest of the audience—disrupts the positive vibe. Or maybe the bartender has to crank up the blender to make a frozen margarita, just as the band counts off a sensitive ballad like "It Never Entered My Mind." It's a testament to the professionalism of a performer like Donatelli, who can ignore such distractions and go on and "do her thing" with class and grace.

Between sets, birthday cake sweetened everyone's palates. The serving of a candlelit cake, and the impromptu singing of "Happy Birthday" for the musicians, has been a longtime tradition at this cherished little club, and reflects the love that tightly binds the jazz community here in this otherwise widely dispersed and impersonal megalopolis. Then the seductive and sultry voiced Donatelli returned to the stage and crooned a languid "Darn That Dream," accompanied by Kay's deft brushwork and Heard's mesmerizing bass lines. She closed the set exuding unrestrained joy on Clare Fischer's Latin jazz gem, "Morning."

Just another hip and swingin' night out in the Valley.

Janis Mann
Charlie O's
Van Nuys, CA
May 27, 2011

The following week, New York native Janis Mann brought her sassy attitude and earthy, penetrating voice to Charlie O's intimate stage. Mann kicked off the first set with a tantalizingly slow and playful duet with pianist Lanny Hartley, on "This Can't Be Love," before breaking into an up-tempo rhythm with the rest of the band.

She put on the brakes with Jimmy Van Heusen's ballad, "But Beautiful," stroking each word with a lover's caress. Mann invoked her scatting skills on the Fats Waller/Andy Razaf composition, "Honeysuckle Rose." Then, with a glance at Roy McCurdy, Mann turned the monster drummer loose for a pulse-pounding solo.

The singer opened her second set with "Day In, Day Out," singing it up-tempo and minimalist, just her elegant phrasing and McCurdy's impeccable brushwork. Later, feeling in a "Dinah Washington kinda mood," Mann and Hartley got lowdown and funky on "Evil Gal Blues."

The evening's highlight (and simultaneous lowlight) came at the end of the set, as Mann counted off a slow yet swinging version of "I Thought About You." During a pause between her lines, the feral yelp of a drunken blonde at the bar pierced the momentary silence. Mann, the consummate pro, naturally didn't miss a beat. No doubt she had encountered similarly rude individuals in other clubs, on other nights.

Yet this obnoxious woman and her companion raised their voices louder and louder, until Mann could take it no more. When she next reached the song's title, she turned to those two miscreants and, in a dramatically accusatory tone, sang the words, "I thought about you, you, YOU!"

They finally got the message, and the rest of the audience cheered its approval.

Score one for the jazz singer!


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