Jazz singer Denise Donatelli smooth and polished with band in Allentown benefit – The Morning Call
Written by Dave Howell
Even though jazz vocalist Denise Donatelli is a graduate of Allentown’s Parkland High School, Sunday marked the first time she performed in Allentown’s Miller Symphony Hall. Moving to Los Angeles was a good idea, though, since she has received Grammy nominations for her last three albums.
The third floor Rodale room was filled with fans, members of Donatelli’s family and a table of students from El Sistema of the Lehigh Valley. The concert was a benefit for El Sistema, a program that provides music education to underserved and special needs youth.
Smoothness was the key to Donatelli’s sound with her band of four New York City musicians. The band used a number of rhythms, like an Afro-Caribbean take on “All or Nothing At All” and the South American “Spaced Out (En Babia).” But everything was perfectly played and fit right into place, led by Donatelli’s strong but relaxed vocals.
Don Braden on tenor and soprano sax and flute and Dave Kikoski on grand piano varied from lightning runs to gentle melodic solos. Ed Howard on standup bass and Clarence Penn on drums gave an insistent but subtle push.
Donatelli began with “Old Devil Moon.” Although she also sang “Skylark,” the two-hour show was notable for having wonderful songs taken from her albums that are not overly familiar in a jazz setting. They included Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool,” Donald Fagan’s “Big Noise New York,” and Sting’s “Practical Arrangement,” the latter written for the Broadway play “The Last Ship.”
The many love songs were generally upbeat, not dealing with heartbreak. “Two hearts revealing/music hath charms” were the words that led off “When Lights Are Low,” the title track of her 2010 album. “I trip over stepping stones/that lead to the deep unknown,” on “Love and Paris Rain” from her 2015 album “Find a Heart,” gently looked forward.
The one negative was Donatelli’s mike, which was too loud at the beginning in relation to her band, with too much treble and having a slight echo that made her difficult to understand at times. This was less noticeable in the second half.
Hopefully the Lehigh Valley will not have to wait so long for her to return for a concert.
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.