Making All the Music She Can Make

Kind of blue: Gabrielle Stravelli with Pat O'Leary. Photos by Terry Bisbee.

“Sing it high, sing it low,” urged the jazz/pop singer Gabrielle Stravelli in the first tune, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” of her show at Café Noctambulo in NYC last weekend. She set a good example, with some rangy and surprising renditions of standards, show tunes, and a couple of re-purposed rock songs. I have a weakness for rock, and those were my favorites. Gabrielle did a few medleys (which I don’t have a weakness for!), including “Happy Talk,” from South Pacific, mixed with a heartfelt “Young Folks.” When slowed down, that song by the Swedish band Peter Bjorn and John took on a different, yearning quality, and Gabrielle’s rich, supple voice seemed to be inviting us into an intimate space (though we were already in a lovely one!).

Another high point was a bass-and-voice version of the Indigo Girls’ “Power of Two.” Pat O’Leary was great on the upright bass. The pianist, Art Hirahara, was also amazing, performing such a fleet solo on “It Might As Well Be Spring” that I could almost hear my music-loving dad, who died in 1997, sighing “Oh, man!” Gabrielle’s vocals were also impeccable on that one, which had what must have been a challenging arrangement.

In addition, among other songs, the quartet, rounded out by Eric Halvorson on drums, performed an unrecognizable and seductive “Oh Boy,” by Buddy Holly (mixed with a bit of Miles Davis's "So What"); the little-known “Where Is the Song?” by Bob Dorough, who also wrote the well-known “Conjunction Junction”; and the tear-jerker, originally recorded by Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” (Gabrielle, perhaps caught up in the emotion, forgot the lyrics to the last song at one point, endearingly calling out for help.)

My friend Terry Bisbee, who took the photos above and below, and I spoke briefly to Gabrielle afterward, and she was as warm as she appears in her show, even complimenting me on my Guatemalan earrings. She herself was wearing a beautiful muted-lilac short dress and silver heels that had prompted someone in the crowd to yell out, “I love your shoes!” Check out her videos (Terry mentioned that "there's something about her liveliness and fluid expressions that really works"), catch her at the Cornelia Street Café July 13, and/or watch for her new album in the fall to see what fascinating choices she’s made this time around.

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