Highly lauded jazz vocalist Veronica Swift grew up on tour with her parents, renowned jazz pianist Hod O’Brien and jazz singer/educator/author Stephanie Nakasian. James Tormé is the son of three-time Grammy Award Winning legend Mel Tormé. Except for the genre in which both perform and facility with scat, pedigree might be the only thing they have in common.
Swift’s wordless “Flying Home” is burnished scat. The performer bounces, leans in, swings her head, pumps a leg. She submits to music palpably passing through her. What begins a skilled slalom turns to powdery airbrush. Accompanied by stroked piano, circling brushes, dusky bass, “Embraceable You” is believable. Feeling echoes.
“My Romance” emerges a resonant scat conversation with bass. (Alas, Darryl Johns won’t look at her.) Swift wistfully shapes the song using microphone wire looped through her fingers. The velveteen voice has knap. “Sleigh Ride” is true to its intention. Drums conjure. Except for some too-fast arrangements (“The Lady is A Tramp”) that diminish lyrics, the artist is graceful, classy and joyfully present. She scats like the devil.
Tormé, on the other hand, hasn’t half his father’s pipes, phrasing, focus, or style. (Were he not so perpetually referencing Mel Tormé, I wouldn’t compare.) Mugging through selections like a 50s lounge act, the singer even makes tonight’s partner wince. He comes in late, forgets lyrics, talks a blue streak (though origin of The Christmas Song, which is nicely understated, is amusing), seems unsteady on his feet, and generally corns up the show.
Back end vibrato and parenthetic scat is appealing, but phrases dwindle as if breath gives out. “Moanin” seems out of step with the rest of the presentation. Duets serve better than solos.
How these two ended up on the stage together is anybody’s guess.
Veronica Swift and James Tormé Sing Mel and Ella! (Mel Tormé and Ells Fitzgerald)
MD/Piano Alan Farnham
Bass-Darryl Johns; Drums-Steve Johns
Birdland Jazz Theater
315 West 44th Street
December 27, 2019