“City Girl, Country Boy”
by Peter Haas
It seemed like an unlikely combination: songs recorded and popularized by Willie Nelson, one of country music’s most beloved figures, and the singing of Gabrielle Stravelli, who grew up in New York’s cabaret community and has since become an international jazz favorite. Yet the pairing worked most satisfyingly, packing Birdland on a late-September evening, filling the club with a buoyant and affectionate air as Gabrielle performed in top form and loving spirit. .
With the backing of a versatile band – Joshua Richman on piano, Pat O’Leary on bass, Eric Halvorsen on drums and Scott Robinson on woodwinds — Gabrielle, natty in a black pants-suit, performed a dozen-plus songs associated with Nelson, many written by him. Among them were Nelson’s “Butterfly,” featuring Robinson’s gentle flute solo; “Three Days,” with a strong drum break by Halvorson, and a sweet medley combining a number of Nelson’s own pieces: “Little Old-Fashioned Karma,” “Blame It On the Times,” “Nobody Slides,” “Pick Up My Pieces,” “Crazy” and “Night Life.”
Throughout his career, Nelson had performed other writers’ songs as well as his own. Gabrielle included many, such as “Bright Lights Big City” (by Jimmy Reed), “It’s the Bluest Kind of Blues” (by Django Reinhardt), “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (by Ed and Patsy Bruce), “Always On My Mind” (by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson), which Gabrielle sang accompanied only by Joshua on piano;-and — recognizing Nelson’s talents at cross-over, –Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parrish’s immortal “Stardust.”
Throughout the evening, Gabrielle shared biographical notes on Nelson, bringing the writer/singer to life amid his songs. Further, it’s a tribute to Gabrielle’s own musicianship that, throughout the evening, she was able to introduce varied singing styles, unforced, to match each song. She has become a gifted performer, willing to take chances – and to grow.
Birdland Jazz Club
September 24, 2018