Callaway’s subtle musical styling charms, serenades

Ann Hampton Callaway charmed and serenaded her audience at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.

The charm flowed from a comfort level and personal warmth that’s infectious.

Her audience rapport may have begun slightly on the weak side, but it grew naturally, without being forced, into something quite special as the evening progressed. The serenading showcased her full rich voice, musical sensitivity and ability to communicate lyrics with meaning and understanding.

This should be no surprise given her extensive experience as one of the country’s foremost lounge, cabaret and recording artists. But her talent doesn’t stop there.

She is an award-winning lyricist and composer and a talented pianist, although taking the keyboard only once through the evening gave little opportunity to demonstrate her pianistic skill.

Callaway was, of course, the center of attention, but the evening was enriched by the unseen but strongly felt presence of Barbra Streisand.

“The Streisand Songbook” was the show’s subtitle, and Callaway missed no opportunity to spotlight Lady Barbra. When she was breaking into the business, Streisand was Callaway’s role model and inspiration. Later, she became her mentor and collaborator.

Streisand’s catalog of hits formed the evening’s program and the enthusiastic audience could be seen mouthing the words of most of them.

“Evergreen” and “People” had to be included, as did “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

And she couldn’t leave out “On a Clear Day” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the latter two cleverly combined.

But the song that struck the strongest emotional chord was “I’ve Dreamed of You,” for which Callaway wrote the lyrics to a melody by Norwegian composer Rolf Lovland, which Streisand coveted. She commissioned Callaway to compose lyrics and the result became one of the most beautiful — but too infrequently heard — love songs imaginable.

How meaningful was it? Streisand gave it its first performance at her wedding to James Brolin. It’s hard to imagine that auspicious performance could have been any more heartfelt than the deeply moving treatment Callaway presented. It was the highlight of the evening — truly a two-tissue moment.

Also memorable: “Cry Me a River” (showing a rich dark low range), “Evergreen,” “Lazy Afternoon,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and several others that may be identified with other artists but on which Streisand has put her very identifiable personal stamp and which Callaway carries on with unflagging musicianship and style.

Other influences can be detected in Callaway’s presentation: Ella Fitzgerald for the clarity of the words and respect for their meaning, Roberta Flack and Sarah Vaughan for the undercurrent that smolders occasionally and the phrasing of Sinatra and even Mel Torme.

We can’t ignore the thoroughly supportive accompaniment provided by bassist Trey Henry, drummer M.B. Gordy and especially the subtle and tasteful piano work of Christian Jacob.