Voices in Her Head

Ann Hampton Callaway performs classic songs with a flourish.

Ann Hampton Callaway relates the story about how a nightingale finds its voice. It seems the bird can't sing until it hears another nightingale's song.

Signature celebrates Callaway's personal nightingales, the great jazz-pop singers of the 1940s, '50s and '60s whose recordings helped her recognize her own voice. It's her latest CD, and also a show Callaway is taking around the country. She'll stop in Tucson for appearances March 8-9 at the Berger Center for the Performing Arts.

Cabaret queen turned jazz stylist Callaway can make her voice do just about anything, but her work isn't about vocal pyrotechnics; it's about conveying the lyrics in the most sensitive, penetrating manner possible. You can tell she grew up listening to the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

She deploys a wide soprano range with a dark, smoky mezzo finish that isn't so evident in her speaking voice. Her work on Broadway (starring in Swing!) has taught her the art of belting, but she scales her voice down for most of the Signature songs.

On the CD, Callaway scats as well as Mel Tormé in her irresistible version of his "Pick Yourself Up," lingers on consonants Sinatra-style when covering "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and goes nasal in Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache." But in general she pays tribute to singers without closely mimicking them--not intentionally, anyway. She sounds a little like Ella Fitzgerald in the Anita O'Day vehicle "You Turned the Tables on Me," but not in her nimble treatment of Ella's "Mr. Paganini." She does, however, engage Wynton Marsalis, Louis Armstrong's heir apparent, to play the trumpet solos in Satchmo's "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." No such luck at the local shows, in which she's backed up by pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Ed Friedland and drummer Fred Hayes.

Callaway has a big voice at her disposal, but keeps it under wraps to good effect, as in her light, hushed, insinuating opening verses of "The Best Is Yet to Come" and her fluent, swinging treatment of Annie Ross' "Twisted."

These signatures are no forgeries; they're classic songs performed with Callaway's own assured flourish.

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