What follows is so much more than a formulaic visit to the Great American Songbook by a singer and a pianist. What Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan offer us here is nothing short of miraculous.
I think of the eloquent reedman, now gone, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, who — when confronted by music that was deeply heartfelt and expert without artifice — would hit himself in mid-chest and say, “Gets you right in the gizzard, doesn’t it?” And he spoke with great conviction about musicians who knew the sacred wisdom of “taking their time,” of letting beauty unfold at its own pace.
Sam never got to hear Gabrielle and Michael, but I sense his approving spirit.
The music here is so emotionally deep without play-acting (“Look how much drama we can wring out of this old song!”) and it is both intense and leisurely, because they know that the slow growth of real feeling cannot be hurried.
They offer a rich quiet mixture of delicacy and intensity; they create a wondrous synergy, inspiring one another.
The song is STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, music by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli (both jazz improvisers who you’ll find on many recordings from the Twenties to the Sixties), lyrics by Mitchell Parish. It’s a sweet ballad, but Gabrielle and Michael keep the tempo moving, even though it feels like a thoughtful rubato throughout.
Please note the absolutely reverent attention given to the nuances of melody that Michael brings to his somberly hopeful exposition of the theme — a completely satisfying musical offering in itself. Then Gabrielle’s quietly hopeful song — with Michael playing the most sensitive intuitive accompaniment (and I see “accompaniment” here as a lovely friendship, with the two of them sweetly climbing those stairs as the lyrics suggest).
Gabrielle’s voice in itself is a rare thing, but what she does with and within it is simply incomparable:
This performance took place on Sunday, February 8, 2015 — at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn (easily reached by a half-dozen subway lines). When I have brought myself and my camera to a place where such music is created in front of my eyes, I do not simply feel rewarded; I feel uplifted. And grateful beyond my power to express here.
I also think this performance should remind people who dearly love music that it is being created right now, all around us. It exists in human form: people with voices and instruments, inventing beauty on the spot. The music is large, vividly alive, and energized — in ways that earbuds cannot contain. Even this video is a shadow on the cave wall — encapsulating the experience but not a complete equivalent for it.
My words are more than “Go and hear some live music,” although that is also my intent. To be in a place where actual people are creating something like this in public is an experience more inspiring than clicking the icon to download the track . . . but many people seem to have forgotten this. Honor the music by joining the creators, while it and they still thrive.
May your happiness increase!