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BWW Review: Ronny Whyte's Inimitable Elegant Style Buoys The Jazz Room at Kitano

Ronny Whyte charmed Kitano, with (l to r): Boots Maleson on bass,
David Silliman on drums, and Sean Harkness on guitar.

Ronny Whyte epitomizes everything gracious, refined, and sophisticated that's become rare in music presented by artists under a certain age and temperament. Even with jazz interpretation, his accessible choices and deceptively casual delivery present songs as their authors intended. When he composes, tacit symbiosis with lyricists creates melody and images that seem to come from a less complicated era. Roger Shore's "A Little Thing I Missed" . . . kisses in the rain . . . Connecticut by train . . . and Bob Levy's " She Just Needs You" . . . I'd be so proud to be the man she loves in a special way . . . " exemplify this. Authenticity and universality keep these relevant.

Last Saturday night, Whyte was joined by veteran collaborators--Boots Maleson on bass, David Silliman on drums, and guest guitarist Sean Harkness--for a show that featured mostly eclectic American Songbook standards and originals from his own oeuvre. While he's a pleasure at the piano, Whyte's equally so in front of the instrument, free to concentrate on lyric delivery and imbue numbers with infectious appreciation. (Watching him watch other musicians is a delight.) During this part of the program, Sean Harkness' masterful guitar seamlessly maintains instrumental balance.

A relaxed, swing-tinted "Taking a Chance on Love" (Vernon Duke/John La Touche/Ted Fetter) is followed by what seems a Ronny Whyte credo" "Do What You Want to Do"/It's your own life/And brother it's up to you . . . (Vernon Duke/John LaTouche). Accompaniment is note for note clear and fluent. Harkness conjures a bit of (musical) trick skateboarding. Maleson's right hand moves like a dancer. Silliman's fickle drums flirt with both instruments. Whyte is minimally eloquent at the piano.

Warm ballads include a cha cha "Spring is Here" (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) and a simply lovely rendition of "Young and Foolish" (Albert Hague/Arnold B. Horwitt). The vocalist tilts his head back and closes his eyes, phrasing like breathing, apparently savoring memories. A higher, gentler guitar sounds stroked. And in "Suddenly It's Spring" (Jimmy Van Heusen/ Johnny Burke), during which a baby boom couple is inspired to rise and dance, guitar sashays, circles, zig-zags; the often serious bass winks. Whyte croons a scatted exchange with percussion. Octaves slip-slide like butter.

Humorous, insouciant approach arrives with Bart Howard's "Who Wants to Fall In Love?" Really, where else could one find rhymes like "silly" and uphilly," "stammer" and "hitting yourself in the head with a hammer?" At the end of the number, as if cued, someone at the back of the room calls out "no one!" Perfect. "Blame It On the Movies" (a charmer by Ronny Whyte) is delivered like a wistful sigh.

The evening ends on a lighthearted, optimistic note: Oscar Brown Jr.'s "While I'm Still Young" is bouncy and bright with Latin choruses. The room suddenly feels life is before us regardless of personal age. "Sometimes I'm Happy" replete with splendid scat, brims with spirit. Whyte is something of an avatar. The laidback set was warm, skilled, classy, and considerable fun.

As always, the audience in Gino Moratti's beautifully run jazz room at The Kitano attended his benevolent but stern opening speech and were attentive.

Photos by Takako Harkness Photography

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From This Author Alix Cohen