Review: Ann Hampton Callaway Hits Redial in ‘On My Way to You’
A self-proclaimed “hopeless romantic” surrounded by “material girls”: That’s how the singer Ann Hampton Callaway described her younger self on Thursday evening at 54 Below, where she opened her new show, “On My Way to You.” That younger self was a demure piano bar entertainer whose rich, extravagantly gorgeous voice hovered on the brink of tears as she poured her heart out in classic ballads and lachrymose original songs.
That was the ’80s. Since then, Ms. Callaway, 57, has acquired spectacular accouterments: most prominently a layer of jazz. She has devoted entire programs to celebrating Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. And on Thursday, she called the jazz singer Kurt Elling to the stage for an extended interlude of shared vocal improvisation.
The new show might be described as an official happy ending to an exhaustive romantic search. Last November, Ms. Callaway married her partner, Kari Strand, whom she called “the love of my life.” She mused about marriage equality and her sense of responsibility to make the relationship work. How to make it last was the subject of her improvisation with Mr. Elling, who has been married to the same woman for nearly 20 years. He wittily parried her pointed questions.
This duet suggested a valiant attempt by two highly accomplished pop-jazz performers to emulate the ease and spontaneity of those greatest of all jazz playmates, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But the disparity between Mr. Elling’s gritty blues growl and Ms. Callaway’s refined ornamentation kept them at a distance. Ms. Callaway delivers perfect vocal simulations of jazz instruments but is too demure to get down and dirty. That said, the duet was illuminating for the tensions it exposed.
For the rest of the show, Ms. Callaway’s band — John DiMartino on piano, Martin Wind on bass and Tim Horner on drums — provided solid pop-jazz arrangements on a mixture of original songs and standards.
For all the paths Ms. Callaway explored, the starting point was the emotional territory she occupied when I first saw her 30 years ago. Ms. Callaway is the same hopeless romantic she was then. The purity of her sound may have diminished slightly, but at heart Ms. Callaway remains a true believer in happily ever after. A medley of “My Foolish Heart” and “My Romance,” and two Michel Legrand ballads with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman — “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” and “On My Way to You” — got to the heart of the matter.