Sometimes the ownership of a property changes rapidly. That happens whenever proprietor Tom Donohoe introduced Catherine Russell to a house always packed with her devoted fans. The loud applause and cheers show that the lady, temporarily, owns the place. We have enjoyed her performances for years, and no matter be she singing outdoors on a temporary park stage, the august Rose Hall of Jazz at Lincoln Center, or any jazz club around the globe, she casts a spell. Shanghai Jazz, however, seems made for her magical voice. There her sound is not only riveting; it takes on the added quality of a warm comforting embrace.
This last time, in early December, Donohoe properly advertised the jazz and blues dinner/show as a special event and prepared a special menu. The first and second sets were set far enough apart to allow patrons leisurely dine and chat before the show; and the veteran staff made sure all was ready when the crowds arrived. Then, the proprietor thanked the audience for supporting live jazz during this trying time and introduced Matt Munisteri (guitar), Tal Ronen (bass) and Mark Shane (piano) and then the star.
Russell echoed Donohoe’s remark, noting that performing remotely was not something she wanted to continue doing if only because it lacks applause. Then the four artists began. The trio have been with her for years and superbly provide great backup and interesting solos. They have their own short hand. When she quietly called “Nat King Cole’s blues,” They immediately hit “Send for Me,” and Munisteri added a solo that was long, great, and pure blues.
The lady is one of those performers who can make you feel that you are good friends visiting her home. She expertly balances her performances with an occasional brief talk or an intro limited to who first performed or wrote a piece, then she sings the song. In all, fifteen numbers, ranging from a few seasonal classics such as “Merry Christmas Baby,” to great standards such as “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” fan favorites such as “Fine and Mellow,” and seldom heard works, such as “I’m an Errand Girl for Rhythm,” packed the set. It ended far too soon, but the clock showed that we weren’t sold short.
As always, Tom Donohoe closed the event with a final acknowledgement of each performer, then he asked the star if she would return again next year. She quickly agreed to sustained applause. Russell lingered to chat with fans and signed some CDs as the happy crowd thinned out. As we drove home, we listened to our new CD.