January 25, 2011



Butterfield is a mystery. In her show at the Rrazz Room it was more of homage to New York than it was to San Francisco. And why not? She won some Cabaret awards for her appearances in N.Y. – so, I guess in her mind she should thank them.

Some of the songs that Butterfield sings are very classy and jazzy. She’s a milder and gentle singer. That can be good, but on the other hand – it can be boring.  Most of her set was sleepy.

I grew up with Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Sammy Cahn and Oscar Levant music. Oh – what wonderful songs they brought to the world. But what I heard from Butterfield was low-energy music from this great music. “Teach Me Tonight,” (Sammy Chan/Gene DePaul) wrote this stunning and memorable song. Butterfield – lost the import of the music. It should break your heart – but not tear up the sheet music. Not even the simple “Tennessee Waltz” (Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King) prompted me to get up and dance.

Her “On The Street Where You Live” – (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe) gave a clean, punchy, solid arrangement from the “Big Band Era”.  Liked it!  Butterfield came out a winner with “That Old Black Magic” – (Harold Arlen and Lyricist Johnny Mercer). The 1942 hit has been giving magic ever since. And this time, add Butterfield to the list of fine renditions.

The Gershwin “Do It Again” was sly and ‘wink’, ‘wink’. But, the pace dragged a little. She pleads “Blame it on My Youth” another wonder song, that did not have the heartbreak in it that it needs. Butterfield’s show was pleasant enough. She has a very dramatic stance – but her versions of most of the great American Song Book pales in comparison to others.

The arrangements were pretty good.  Here is Butterfield’s backup: Director, Clifford Bell - Musical Direction by Ken Muir with Muir also on the piano. 

The song set was a good one. I just wish that Butterfield would break out of the monotony once in a while. It was almost like attending a wake.  I know that she worked hard – but she has to playback the show and listen carefully to it.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and Produced and hosted a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED))) 

This review will also be on www.beyondchron.org. 

January 9, 2011




Their harmonies are still as rapturous as when they began.  Sure, there have been some changes. People get older and some changes in singers have taken place. But the core of the three degrees, still have that pizzazz. The glamorous clothes and the elegant hand movemens still fascinate.

The three singers have voices that could knock the ‘Supremes’ off the stage. Why they never reached that pinnacle I’ll never know. Remember, this music was the time for lovers, feeling and sensuality. This music was new – hip and everyone was singing it. So, at the Rrazz Room – it was no surprise to hear the audience sing along with their favorites. In fact “The Degrees” encouraged them to do so. It’s all so 70’s – and that is what makes it so enjoyable.

My only complaint is that the orchestrations sound pretty much alike from one song to another. The drumbeat is mostly static and overall -- the arrangements are not very imaginative.  They need to take another look at the old arrangements – and stick with that. As good as some of the vocals are – the music almost drowned them out.

They have this thing of changing lead singers, so that they all get a turn. It’s a great idea, but it would work out better, if they really let each one do more of a solo with the others as backup. This way it would really showcase every girl’s talent. And, they all have plenty that.

My Favorites were “Dirty Old Man” (their 2nd biggest it) – Their own favorite and mine -- “The Sound of Philadelphia.” And the absolutely fantastic “If You Don’t Know Me” couldn’t be better. It also was one of the all-time audience's fave.  Really loved – “When Will I See You Again.”

This show with the current “The Three” is a classic reminder of how great their harmonies were. True 70’s soul fans will love it hearing Valerie Holiday – Helen Scott and Freddie Pool sing in full spectrum.



JUDY BUTTERFIELD the rising singer is at the Rrazz room to day at 3pm. Butterfield being young brings a youthful interpretation to the well-known ‘Great American Songbook’. The equally well-known Andrea Marcovicci discovered her. 

Judy has performed a Judy Garland Tribute show in N.Y. to great raves. Now in San Francisco she will bring her pure style of singing to the Rrazz today at 3pm and Monday at 8pm. The new show is titled “Under the Manhattan Moon. Believe me – her voice will brighten your day. Maybe that’s why the Sun came out today in San Francisco.

Oh, by the way – Butterfield has won a Mabel Mercer Foundation Award and a Julie Wilson Award.  And yes – she is glamorous.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced and hosted a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

January 6, 2011


D’Ambrosio Dazzler; Martha Reeves – heatwave; Mads Tolling Tribute to Jean –Luc Ponty; Flicker Bits


It was a night to remember. The house was packed to the walls and the excitement in the air was like a Tesla experiment. Starting a little late, because of all the technical stuff that had to be just perfect and synched for the Live C.D. performance.

Then he appeared. His handsome, chiseled face captured the audience even before he opened his mouth. The stage presence was like 40million LCD lights that just turned on.

And when he does sing – the beautiful voice takes over. The secure high register and the dark, masculine middle chest voice soar him to dramatic moments. D’Ambrosio is so talented in so many venues – an actor in movies (Godfather) Stage (Phantom of the Opera), nightclubs and TV. Ambrosio not only sings in English, but also treated us to a couple of songs in his Native Italian. This showed how he could sing in a variety of styles and eras. But no matter what style – each song is seductive.

In the Audience were many Celebrities, including Ice Prince Brian Boitano, who was sitting in the front row. He of course, was quickly recognizable.

The C.D. will be called “I’ll Be Seeing Youz.” Some think (including me) that the War Years were the best of times. The music then was real music. Not electronic gimmicks. These World War ll songs sure bring back the memories, as he sang “Long Ago and Far Way”, “Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning”, and that tearjerker “I’ll Be Seeing You.”


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced and hosted a long running PBS KQED Arts Segment)))


MADS TOLLING PERFORMS AN ECLECTIC MIX OF MUSIC from Jazz to Country. Ponty wrote much of the music, -- but some were written by Tolling and others.

Tolling’s performance is very capturing. He not only plays that violin – he makes love to it. Tolling is absolutely brilliant. Well, that’s why he won a Grammy Award. He pushes the boundaries of live performance.

Tolling completely captures the audience with magical flights of imagination. We don’t know how his mind works – but the music keeps you on the edge of your chair. He is the most passionate musician that I have ever seen on a stage. 

The handsome and charming Tolling is Danish -- and that added to the performance as he played the fun song “New Country” and “New Country” – both have C &W flavor and plenty of it. Love “the Contemplator (Tolling). As he plays – you envision sweet Ocean Breezes blowing through your hair. Wish I had more hair.

Later in the set he throws in a Chick Corea song called Armandos Rumba. Chick wrote the song for his Son, Armando.  Tolling turned it into a mini concerto.

Near the end of the show Tolling gave us “Godson Song” by Bill Frisell. Played C&W style. Just close your eyes and you will hear the cry of wild horses among towering pine trees.

Playing with Tolling are Mike Abraham (guitar), George Ban-Weiss (acoustic/electric bass) and Eric Garland (drums). I’d call this band – ‘Riveting and explosive’.  Especially captivating was Abraham.

And, as a bonus.  In the front row was a young 15-year old boy with his father and mother. Tolling introduced the boy, Gabe Gladstein to join him on the stage and handed him a violin.  Tolling asked the lad if he wanted some sheet music. Gabe said “no!” He amazingly played along with Tolling like a veteran. What an amazing performance. Take my word for it. This boy is going to be a BIG star.  (NOTE: A Chronicle reporter ran after Gabe in the Lobby to get the correct spelling of Gabe’s name. It will most likely be in Friday’s paper).

In case you want to hear some of Gabe’s music – go to:  http://www.gabegladstein.com/

Mads Tolling has some great C.D’s – you can find them on Amazon.Com.  The above show was at:



There are no flies on Martha Reeves. She moves too fast. Reeves fronted the Motown group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Over many years she has performed with greats James Brown, Dusty Springfield and Marvin Gaye – just to mention a few. And along the way she was inducted into the rock’n ‘Roll Hall of Fame.

She’s had a bunch of hits like ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Dancing in The Street’.  Now in her higher 6 0’s she still performs like she’s in her thirties. She’s quoted as saying: “s doesn’t seem to be slowing down or call I’ve lived my life looking forward to appearances. It’s the fun times of performing before an audience. I can’t wait to hit the road again.” And indeed --she is hitting that road and headed for SF for another show at the Rrazz Room.

She’ doesn’t seem to be slowing down or call it quits. She’s still the ‘Lead Queen’ on the Motown circuit. Her legend goes with her, with dozens of albums, movies and – all those great memories.

Talking to a reporter – she recalled: “When we were kids – we used to ‘Dance in the street’. Some people called us Vandels (because of the name Vandella. There were some occasions when the local Police would let residents block off whole streets. There weren’t any C.D’s of Ipods or Ipads then – just records.”

She has said many times “Della Reese is my idol and always will be.  We used the ‘Della’ as part of the Vandella name.” She fondly tells everyone that her life is the ‘Best Party’ that she has ever been to.

I’ve seen Martha Reeves before – and let me tell you…. she puts on a marvelous first-rate show with stunning on stage charisma -- that rewinds us to the days of real music.

MARTHA REEVES 8PM Tuesday – Saturday; Sunday 7Pm.  



Part Mommie Dearest and part Horror story. Natalie Portman plays a neurotic Ballet Dancer who is overwhelmed by her Stage Mother. Also, she has a rival that is even more evil than the mother. Beautifully filmed. Gorgeous to look at and will be high on the Oscar list. Rating: Four Boxes of Popcorn!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-


Everyone loves stories about ‘Royals’.  I know that I do. In this story the ‘King is a mess’. He stutters and screams and yells at his speech coach, who is trying to help him. Colin Firth as the Duke of York does the stammering. Geoffrey Rush plays the unconventional Speech guy who is trying to help the Duke. A very intriguing movie, but no one hardly leaves the Castle. Wouldn’t hurt to get some outside air. Still. Great movie.
Rating: Four Glasses of Champagne!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-.


Would John Wayne like the remake? Not likely. In 1969 John Wayne was the star. Joel and Ethan Coen decided that they could make a better movie. And they did just that by hiring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. She plays the girl who seeks a lawman to get revenge for her father’s murder. Get out those chaps…cause Bridges is riding high. And he might even ride in on Oscar.

Rating: Three Boxes of Popcorn!!! –trademarked-

January 3, 2011




The last time that I saw D’Ambrosio at the fabulous Rrazz Room was back in August. At that time the show was called “I’ll Be Seeing Youz” – and he sang fantastic renditions of pop World War II Songs. His unique styling was adored by the audience. From the Movie ‘Cover girl’ he sang the yearning “Long Ago and Far Away”.  And he sang the charming “Rosie The Riveter” about the real life ‘Rosie’ who worked in a factory during World War II.  We lost the real Rosie a week or so ago. I wish that she could have heard D’Ambrosio sing it. Maybe he will reprise it at his show this Tuesday (Jan 4. 2011), which I have named “Roll 11” like a dice game. Lets hope that 2011 will be great for all of us.

This reprise is REALLY special, as Ambrosio will feature more stories from Franc's colorful family, along with the popular war songs from 1930-1946 in a "Live At The RRazz Room CD recording" that will be an enhanced "I'll Be Seeing Youz". And he will be backed up with a wonderful band.
Ambrosio is also a damned good Artist – his paintings are much in demand.  He also is a noted Actor in addition to his singing. Ambrosio was in the ‘Phantom of the Opera” for more years than anyone else. 

Yeh – there is no doubt about it. Ambrosio is an electrifying talent who knows how to get your pulse moving. No matter what he does – Sing, Act or paint – you’ll stand up and cheer.
I can’t wait for his show at the Rrazz this coming Jan. 4. He’s a rare and remarkable talent.  Don’t miss!


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced and hotsted a long-running Årts Segment on PBS KQED)))



You may have seen the movie “Billy Elliot” and were delighted with the story and the stars. As good as the movie is – there is nothing like live Theatre. The dancers in this show really stoke the Coals to a brilliant blaze. Elton John’s composed the movie’s music and now he and the same creative team still captivates with this Coal Miner story about a boy who wants (needs) to dance and his rough and tumble Dad – who doesn’t think boys should dance. The dancing toes will start at the Orpheum Theatres on Sept 13.  And I have it on good authority that the tix are just dancing right out of the Box Office at http://www.shnsf.com/

THEY CAN’T WAIT!  Yes, everyone is waiting for the World Premiere of the new musical “Tales of the City” (based on Armistead Maupin’s books and plays.) The cast is not firmed up yet – but you know that this A.C. T presentation will have top-notch talent. It has been rumored (they hope) that Betty Buckley will reprise her Mrs. Madrigal.  The score is by Jake Shears and John Garden of Scissor Sisters notoriety. So – I suspect that it will be a little pop edgy. Starts May 17 – two days after my birthday. Oh heck – I’ll celebrate then.

RITA MORENO will be returning to The Berkeley Rep Theatre in an autobiographical show that includes dancing boys and a band. Tony Taccone has prepared the script. The West Story legend (Moreno) will continue her legend on the Berkeley stage starting on May 13.  She’s a study in ‘The Spectacular’.

REVIEW OF FRANC D’AMBROSIO WILL BE ON http://www.beyondchron.org/.  this coming Friday.