Wesla Whitfield

Wesla Whitfield and
the Mike Greensill Trio We're in the Money—Songs from the Movies

Rrazz Room
San Francisco, CA

Wesla Whitfield, premiere interpreter of the Great American Songbook, has once again taken up residence at San Francisco’s crown cabaret jewel with a delightful show of well-known and should-be-known movie gems. Wesla and husband/arranger Mike Greensill have a knack for selecting great compositions set to equally exquisite lyrics which complement her vocal style and give expression to the instrumental breaks. Opening with Chaplin/Turner/Parson’s much-covered “Smile,” Wesla sings it in a slow measured time signature which milks the emotion and sentiment of the piece, while Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” is light and breezy, like a cloud.

Wesla shines on romantic ballads with her precise phrasing and unique stretching of a note on each word. It’s hard to describe, but magic to hear. When she is in top form, as she was this evening, the notes shimmer and hang languidly in the air. Johnny Mercer/ Henry Mancini’s “Whistling Away the Dark,” Mercer and David Raksin’s “Laura” and the Harry Warren and Mack Gordon treasure “I Know Why (and So Do You)” are all treated with great elegance and style. Not many vocalists would even attempt “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Disney’s animated Three Little Pigs or “The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish,” but here Wesla displays her playfulness, delighting in the lyrical fun. Little Shirley Temple’s 1936 “At the Codfish Ball” (Lew Pollock/Sidney D. Mitchell) is transformed into a more mature and delightful swing ditty.

For her encore, Whitfield chose “My Buddy” from the 1927 silent movie Wings. (Don’t fret, Wesla gives us the back story on how a silent movie came to have the first Best Song Oscar winner.) This tender ballad, written by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson about a soldier grieving for his lost comrade, is given a universally resonating heartfelt treatment.

Maintaining a high level of artistic quality both vocally and instrumentally, Wesla, pianist Mike and longtime compatriots Vince Lataeno on drums and John Wiitala on bass never fail to deliver on what her audiences have come to value, cherish, and respect. This show may raise the bar to a ridiculously high standard.

Wesla Whitfield and the Mike Greensill Trio continue at the Rrazz through May 30 and then head to NYC’s Metropolitan Room June 1-5.

Steve Murray
Cabaret Scenes
May 11, 2010