Ronny Whyte launches into Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler’s “Get Happy” with a whomp of head-bobbing, foot-tapping, limber-fingered jazz. Energy and cheer are instant. Boots Maleson’s bass is tight, quick, clean; Ray Marchica’s drums, calmly cool. “Welcome to one of the last refuges from what they call today’s music,” the debonair veteran begins referring to Birdland. One might say the same of Whyte. Wherever he performs, surety of melody, ease, style, and uncluttered lyrics abide.
“Laura” (David Raskin/Johnny Mercer), whose verse Whyte learned from Richard Rodney Bennett, is sway music with cottony vocal. Often melancholy, this musician’s version is instead wistful. …but she’s only (eyebrows rise)…a dream, he sings. “Midnight Sun” (Johnny Mercer/Sonny Burke/Lionel Hampton) is tender, almost a stage whisper. Piano keys seem embraced, bass stroked. Just lovely.
“There are certain rules to the blues – sloppy wives, trailer parks, pick-up trucks…We decided the rich can get the blues too…” introduces “Hamptons Blues” (Jack Burns/ Ronny Whyte). Referencing not being able to find the gin because it’s the maid’s day off and looking like a Shar-Pei after Botox, the lyric illustrates a droll poor me syndrome with apt specifics.
Whyte then turns the piano over to guest artist Cecelia Coleman with whom he plans a big band CD. This allows us to see his expressive face for the rest of the show. Gestures are minimal. When a palm opens or a hand extends, they do so as amplification of emotional content. Focus is on meaning. Few are aware that Whyte has a musical theater background. Lyrics matter.
The charming Bossa Nova “Dindi” (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Ray Gilbert), which means, he tells us, “little gem,” emerges double-dip-romantic. Piano offers tripling notes, warm chords. Rhythm is infectious. Whyte feels no need to fill silence. Mood is maintained. You’ll never hear an “oh yeah” or “mm hum” from this performer. Bart Howard’s “Let Me Love You” is a cha-cha. Piano doodles mischievously…step, step, step…turn, slide. “…Le-eh-et me love you…” Whyte croons.
Classics like “Sophisticated Lady” (Duke Ellington/ Irving Mills/Mitchell Parish) and “Green Dolphin Street” (M. Bronislaw Kaper/Ned Washington) are mother’s milk to Whyte. He knows them in blood and bone. The first arrives smooth as silk velvet evoking old black and white photos. Maleson contributes a terrific solo. Whyte sings with real sympathy.
The second number steps in mid-tempo swing. Lyrics unfurl without winkles, much like the artist’s pristine summer suit. Conversation between scat and percussion is lively yet unforced. Marchica’s left leg bounces, his shoulders tilt; in perfect control, wrists seem loose. He makes it look easy. Round-edged scat is also showcased in “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” (Duke Ellington/ Bob Russell). Piano is firm and rich. Bass flirts. Drums comment.
A singularly happy “It’s Time for Love” (Bob Levy/Ronny Whyte) and affectionate “I Love the Way You Dance” (Frank Grant/ Ronny Whyte) might’ve been written in the 1950s. Sentiments are direct, universal; tunes appealing. The second song conjures moves so clearly it could dance without lyrics. Maleson again executes fine solo turns.
“Detour Ahead” (Herb Ellis/John Frigo/Lou Carter) sounds like internal admonition the morning after….Can’t you see that danger sign/Soft Shoulders surround you…Whyte grounds the lyric making it credible. There’s experience here.
A classy evening of fine musicianship.
Photos by Jeff Harnar
The Ronny Whyte Trio
Ronny Whyte- Vocals/Piano
Boots Maleson- Bass, Ray Marchica-Drums
Guest Pianist- Cecelia Coleman
Birdland July 12, 2018
315 West 44th Street