By Peter Haas
Gabrielle Stravelli has been abroad a good deal lately: touring Europe and Asia for the State Department, and fulfilling engagements in the Bahamas. Now she’s come home, to make a superlative “Broadway at Birdland” debut. Her show’s theme, not surprisingly, was traveling — to different lands, in varied seasons and times of day, and through a range of emotions. A packed house cheered her as she took to the stage, and kept it up, song after song, through standards, show tunes, folk songs and several of her own creations.
Contributing mightily throughout Gaby’s performance were her accompanying quartet of musicians: Art Hirahara on piano, Pat O’Leary on bass, Eric Halvorson on drums and, shining in solos throughout, guest Grammy winner Scott Robinson on saxophone.
Following upbeat renditions of such standards as “On a Clear Day” (Lane/Lerner), “Pure Imagination” (Bricusse/Newley), “Imagine” (Lennon) and “Summertime” (Gershwin/Heyward), Gabrielle reflected on her recent travels with a charming Azeri folk song, “Ay Lacin.” Old-time music, too, was introduced, with Gaby’s performance of two songs created by Stephen Foster and Lil Hardin Armstrong: “Hard Times” and “Tears,” brought into the 21st century with gentle, sweet and simple arrangements, punctuated by Robinson’s sax riffs. Other familiar standards scattered throughout the show included “Stardust” (Carmichael/Parrish) and Arlen/Mercer’s “Out of This World,” the latter performed first in straightforward style, then in an upbeat, jazz style.
Gabrielle’s increasing strengths as a song writer were spotlighted as well with two of her own numbers: “Cake of My Childhood” and “Prism,” both co-written with Pat O’Leary.
Evidence of Gabrielle’s versatility – and a preview of a Stravelli show to come – were three country songs by Willie Nelson: “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” “Crazy” and, as this evening’s finale, “Night Life.”
It’s not customary for a performer to give credit, in her show, to another performer, but Gabrielle offered thanks to her teacher, Marilyn Maye – who was present to share the audience’s enthusiastic applause for Gaby’s strong and highly professional outing.