At a time of frayed nerves and weary hearts, Rosemary Clooney took a San Francisco audience under her care and provided solace. She made her entrance walking across a darkened stage on the arm of her husband. Seeing the shadowy figures, the audience surrounded them with applause. When the lights came on, Clooney was sitting in a chair at center stage, flashing her famous smile and easing into a fitting opening. "Gonna take a sentimental journey," she sang in a voice as warm and soothing as a tonic. "Gonna set my heart at ease. Gonna make a sentimental journey to renew old memories."
Clooney, 73, only needed a line or two to get the tone for the evening just right. When she finished her first song, San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno appeared unannounced on stage. "I didn’t know I had backup singers," Clooney cracked, unfazed by the interruption. Ammiano began by saying that Mayor Willie Brown had wanted to be at the performance. "Where is he?" Clooney asked, drawing another laugh. After engaging in more good-natured banter and receiving proclamations from the city officials, Clooney returned to her hour-long concert, part of the two-week long San Francisco Jazz Festival that featured 27 concerts in a dozen venues.
During her one-night performance at Davies Symphony Hall, Clooney showed that she is unrivaled. She continues to record regularly, and her recent work is as strong, if not better, than it was in her years as a "girl singer" in the 1950s. Much of the evening’s material came from "Sentimental Journey," her new CD with Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack.
Clooney’s voice is seeped with character, and her timing is impeccable. She arouses emotion with the simplest of lines. "Ol’ rocking chair’s got me," she sang in Hoagy Carmichael’s "Rockin’ Chair." "Cane by my side..." She told the audience. "That’s the truth." She shared memories of Bing Crosby before singing "But Beautiful." She dropped stories about her family as casually as if she were lunching with old friends before launching into a lovely "Hey There." She let the audience get lost in "You Go To My Head" and Irving Berlin’s "I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." Other songs included "I’m Confessin’ That I Love You," "The Singer," "They Can’t Take That Away From Me," and "Old Man River."
Clooney closed the evening with "God Bless America," a song that has taken on new importance since the September 11th terrorist attacks that weigh heavy on the country and never seem very far away. In the middle of the number, she gently asked the audience to sing along. Everyone did.
As her five-member band played their last notes, Clooney made her way off the stage with a wave to the multi-generational crowd and a glance over her shoulder. San Francisco’s rising star Paula West opened the night with a strong performance of standards, including "Bye Bye Blackbird," her "Caravan-Night in Tunisia" medley and a crowd favorite "The Snake." West has a knack for making old songs sound new. She said that opening for Clooney was an event she would recall for all her days. It’s a night that the audience will remember as well.