The granddaughter of Leonard Kranendonk, for 40 years the baritone voice of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, returned to her gramps’ home state and nearly his hometown of little old Oostburg, up near Sheboygan, der.
So did the founder three decades ago in the Big Apple, at the age of 20, of one of the great jazz vocal combos of all time, the Manhattan Transfer, to sing in the ritzy but rustic Sharon Wilson Center for the Arts in this woodsy, wealthy far suburb of Milwaukee.
But most of all, so did a now middle-aged recovering vocal virtuoso who came from her upstate New York professional and personal kind-of-out-of-the-way home to demonstrate for a small crowd (some of whom seemed to remember ol’ Lenny) why she has been written about as a talent like no other.
"All songs I sing," Laurel Masse’ said early in her first of two concerts here in two days that followed master classes, this concert consisting almost entirely of middle or languidly paced jazzy renditions of pop standards, "are love songs."
A lushly mouthed "Saw Him Standing There," of her idol, Paul McCartney (and of Lennon). A bass profundo breathed "My Blue Heaven." A high, quivering "Body and Soul." A sultry, smoky "Got It Bad." And other tunes, more than a dozen in all, proved her point and much of her past acclaim, her performance pearled and filagreed and paced by the talents of pianist Vinnie Martucci.
But Masse’ most specially alloyed her theme, her talent, and her music when she slid simply into a sweet, soulful voicing of part of the lyrical but unlyricized "Ashokan Farewell." The theme by Jay Unger that aurally held together the massive Ken Burn’s PBS "Civil War" television series took on a truer character coming from Masse’s marvelous mouth and heart. It became lover’s arms swaying and holding together love over distance and through fear, of a mother’s arms rocking and holding her dearest one under the breath of a melody for all memory, a coming home for everyone, from where ever. And then she broke it off, undone.
She followed with a planned improvisational scat, she and Vinnie having fresh fun finding their way with each other, and then her own "Goodbye." In this stretch, the woman with a four-octave range, with a multi-generational musical pedigree, of one-time musical fame of nearly the highest order before a near fatal car crash several decades ago and the aftermath and her own grappling left her in near oblivion, with great knowledge of and love for music of all stripes (just look at the playlist of her CD, released about three years ago, "Feather and Bone"), best expressed who she is.
That is until after her two-set show, booked by the increasingly-active, astute, and venturesome Stepping Out Productions of Milwaukee. After Masse’ patiently and graciously greeted and chatted with many in what could and should have been a much larger crowd, one man told the tall singer he hadn’t wanted her to ever stop "Farewell."
She put her hand out on his arm and said, "Shhh. From the bridge..." In a private performance, she sang the rest of her way through it, even more beautifully, she and the music and the sharing perfectly all one.
It’s how a singer, where ever she is and where ever she’s been, brings it home.