Theater archives

The Jazz Singer


When Wesla Whitfield sings, it’s with the zing of a brushed cymbal, a quality that
invigorates her entire
repertoire. Though she’s been appearing in Manhattan clubs–usually the Algonquin’s Oak Room–for the past five years, she’s now trying
something slightly different, a one-woman show with an
autobiographical slant called Life Upon the Wicked Stage (Kaufman Theater). Yes, it’s slightly different, but not much. Between numbers, and
sometimes during them, she drops a few facts and shows a slide or two. She was raised in Santa Maria, California–why, there she is at five or six
daintily holding up the skirt on a fancy dress–attended San Francisco State, worked as a singing waitress, a paralegal,
a mainframe computer
operator. The reason her
accompanist husband Mike Greensill carries her on-and offstage is that in 1977 she “was shot by a couple of kids in the street.” She doesn’t consider herself disabled, however, not while she’s doing successfully what she said she’d do when she was three: sing. That’s it for personal revelation, meaning her show is a delightful sham. She’s not in a theater to talk about herself, but, as always, to honor the songwriters she reveres, lyricist Lorenz Hart chief among them. Since Greensill, who also arranges, and bassist Michael Moore are jazz musicians, some assume that Whitfield is as well. The usual definition of a jazz
vocalist might be someone for whom the melody and what can be done with it is paramount. For Whitfield, though, it’s
always the words, delivered
as if she’s just chosen them
herself. Is she the best singer–jazz or whatever–around
today? No disagreement here.