Secret Love: A Tribute to Doris Day
November 13 & 14 at 8:00 pm
Gaslight Cabaret Theater
358 N.Boyle Ave., St. Louis, MO
Warm intimacy, pitch perfect, funny, poignant, mellow, sexy and spirited—it spells the legacy of Doris Day. In a one-night only show at the Iridium, Karen Oberlin reprised her Doris Day tribute with mature, ebullient, confident Oberlin jazz savvy. Consistent in her admiration of American’s one-time sweetheart, Oberlin presented a salute that was less Doris Day and more Karen Oberlin. That’s a good thing, because Oberlin exhibits growth and more depth since her show Secret Love, eight years ago.
Just as it’s a given that you accept every word and sentiment in a Doris Day song, Oberlin compels you to consider and affirm her own re-examination of America’s Sweetheart’s songbook. Her voice, rangy and velvety, soared into higher levels than usual, but her clean and unaffected communication remains one of Oberlin’s trademarks. Ballads, like a heartfelt “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” (Sammy Cahn/Nicholas Brodzsky) and Bernice Petkere’s sinuous, “Close Your Eyes,” embraced the Day-time warmth, yet the phrasing was her all Oberlin. She has a sophisticated sense of phrasing and stress locked always into the song’s intent. Interpreting Day’s early hit with the Les Brown Band, “We’ll Be Together Again” (Carl Fischer and Frankie Laine), Oberlin insisted, “We both have a lifetime before us…” and you believed it. The feeling was magnified by John Allred’s intimate trombone obbligato.
Oberlin picked and trimmed her patter to pinpoint the reasons for the upcoming song. In the late ’40s, distraught by the breakup of her second marriage, Day was urged to attend a Hollywood party. She agreed to sing and was quickly offered a movie role. Not an actress but broke and alone, she agreed to film Romance on the High Seas, containing a few of her major hit songs, such as the intensely romantic “It’s Magic,” especially magical over a bossa beat. Day was on the fast track to the top. Also from the film, Oberlin upped the playfulness and wryness in “Put ‘Em in a Box” (Cahn/Styne), exploring vocally as her seven jazz messengers took their turns, Sean Smith standing out on bass.
The live and lusty Tedd Firth Septet lent much to the excitement of the show. Firth is an inventive arranger. He is also a versatile and supportive accompanist, never inserting his ego over the vocalist’s. Dave Mann shone on tenor sax and Cliff Lyons took alto sax and John Allred on trombone. Trumpeter Waldron Ricks weighed in on Duke Ellington’s catchy “Tulip or Turnip.” Bassist Sean Smith and drummer Peter Grant all provided enthusiasm and zest.
While the songs Doris Day used to claim her own can move easily into Karen Oberlin’s sphere, it should be added that Day’s considerable inspiration forms part of a foundation that supports the style that is all Karen Oberlin.