Steve Rawlins

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Steve Rawlins

Catalina Jazz Club, Hollywood, CA, April 19, 2023

Reviewed by Clifford Bell

Steve Rawlins
Photo Bob Barry/Jazzography

Los Angeles’ most prestigious listening room, Catalina Jazz Club, was where the L.A. community celebrated one of its own. Popular music director, arranger, and composer Steve Rawlins hosted an evening to launch his new CD, Solo Piano. But instead of presenting solo piano, he filled the stage with the cream of the crop of L.A.’s most sought-after musicians: Bob Sheppard on saxophone, Grant Geissman on guitar, Ken Wild on bass, Bernie Dresel on drums, and Luis Conte on percussion. Explaining that because he felt that the CD, which features him on solo acoustic piano, was an intimate personal experience, he decided that for this launch that he would bring the whole party, and he certainly did!

If I were to title the show, I would have called it The Inner Life of the Man on the Bench, as a nod to his well-known identity as a music director for and accompanist to many great cabaret and jazz artists. For this night, Rawlins was there as a composer, sharing decades of gems that he has written and/or co-written. Looking dapper in a designer off-white dinner jacket and a raspberry-colored shirt (in sharp contrast to his usual concert-appropriate black attire), the handsome Rawlins kept his talking to a minimum and kept the music coming. Several soul-stirring instrumental numbers were followed by a series of guest vocalists, some of whom were his main collaborators.

Kicking off the vocals was one of the musical acts that has occupied much of Steve’s touring schedule, Steve March-Tormé. Yes, his vocal chops and showmanship were clearly inherited from his famous father, Mel Tormé. The two Steves performed a song they wrote called “Afternoons with You,” which March-Tormé described as the song they wrote to court “a girl I was seeing” who is now his wife of 20 years. So I guess the song worked.

Another of Rawlins’ frequent collaborators was jazz artist Mark Winkler. Choosing just one song from the several they have written together, Winkler sang one of their film noir-inspired songs, “Surrender to the Night.”   

The evening took a very exciting turn when Marisa Bradfield, Rawlins’ daughter, took the stage and literally blew the roof off the joint in the standard, “Indian Summer.” I had heard he had two talented daughters who sang but I’d never seen either of them before. Tonight only Marisa was performing, and she was a revelation. She possesses sultry, exotic looks and an exquisite voice that ranged from mellow lower tones to trumpet-like high notes. More Marisa, please! A further glimpse into the family tree came when Marisa’s mother, Isela Sotelo, brought to beautiful life a song called “Reach Out” that dated from past decades when she and Steve would perform together.

When one of the prominent members of the West Coast music community offers a personal evening like this, the house is filled with family, fans, and every singer in the 310 area code. The inevitable and much deserved standing ovation came with the finale, when March-Tormé, Bradfield, and Sotelo returned to the stage for “Swingin’ at the Blue Moon Bar and Grille.”  This number, written by the two Steves, was so exciting that I overheard someone in the crowd say, “This show needs to go on the road!”

From the seductive and smooth instrumentals that featured all those amazing, celebrated musicians, to the showstopper-after-showstopper vocal performances, Steve Rawlins’ CD launch was a polished, multifaceted, and emotionally satisfying affair. At the end of the night the audience demanded an encore. It was an unplanned and completely spontaneous encore, and for the first time of the night, Rawlins played solo piano. It was gorgeous, intimate, and reminded us why we were there.

Sound and lights were masterfully designed by Daniel Gonzalez.

Clifford Bell

Clifford Bell, known affectionately as "Lawrence of Cabarabia," is one of the leading directors and producers in the fields of cabaret, concerts, and one-person shows. As a 40-year veteran of show business, Clifford has worked in venues large and small. He has written and directed variety performances featuring icons like Walter Cronkite, Colin Powell, and Michael Eisner at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California, and toured with television icon Katey Sagal and her band. With his frequent collaborator Lara Teeter (Tony Nominee, On Your Toes), Clifford also co-created the successful touring show Direct from Broadway, starring Tony Award winners Debbie Gravitte (Jerome Robbins' Broadway) and Michael Maguire (Les Misérables). As one of the most prominent figures in the West Coast cabaret community, Clifford hosts "Cabarabia The Podcast," focused on "Live Entertainment in Intimate Settings." Clifford is particularly well known for his variety evenings and showcase presentations, often for charitable causes. One of Clifford's most anticipated efforts is Our Name Is Barbra, the annual celebration of Barbra Streisand's birthday, which has been raising funds and awareness for Clifford's beloved charity Project Angel Food for the past 24 years and counting! In 2023, Clifford will be featured (alongside Chita Rivera, Bruce Vilanch, and Sam Harris) in Marc Saltarelli's documentary "Studio One Forever."