Wesla Whitfield, the San Francisco chanteuse who collaborates with her pianist-arranger husband, Mike Greensill, is heard on a new disc of Irving Berlin songs on the High Note label.
The 2002 release, "The Best Thing for You Would Be Me," gives Whitfield the chance to bring her signature sunny, swinging style to such Berlin numbers as the title tune, "Cheek to Cheek" and "You're Easy to Dance With," while reminding listeners that she can make the world seem empty with her deadpan, searching versions of "Say It Isn't So" and "How About Me?"
Greensill is on piano, Gary Foster on reeds, Marty Wehner on trombone, John Wiitala on bass and Vince Lateano on drums.
Whitfield has played choice cabarets around the country and even sang in her own Off-Broadway cabaret show, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, in 1998. She got wide exposure more than 10 years ago when she opened for Michael Feinstein in concert.
The CD includes:
"I Got Lost in His Arms" *
New for the singer in 1998 was the spelling of her first name, which used to be spelled "Weslia" and was always supposed to be pronounced "Wesla," as it is among family and friends. But after years of people calling her Wes-lee-uh (because of the obvious spelling) she finally changed it to avoid confusion. Most of her dozen or so recordings bear the name Weslia Whitfield.
As early as 1990, Whitfield was opening for Michael Feinstein concerts, singing a hip, optimistic version of "The Trolley Song." Her early independent recordings are harder to come by, but such discs as "Lucky to Be Me" and "High Standards" are common in record stores' cabaret or vocal sections, particularly on the coasts.
Whitfield's Off-Broadway debut, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, played Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 1998. Her following in New York is rooted in her 1993 debut at (and subsequent returns to) the Algonquin Hotel. Among her tales in her Off Broadway show was the rarely discussed, 1977 random shooting that left her unable to walk. In Wicked Stage, Whitfield again worked with longtime pianist-arranger Mike Greensill. Whitfield rose from being a singing waitress, to singing for San Francisco Opera and then to cabarets and boites around the country.
Orrin Keepnews produced the new disc.
— By Kenneth Jones