by Carole Verona
Vocalist Michelle Lordi, 43, backed by some of the finest jazz musicians in town, brings her love and reverence for the music and singers of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s to a free concert at Pastorius Park on Wednesday, July 22, 7:30 p.m.
If you’ve never heard Michelle sing, sit back and enjoy what she describes as “a very straightforward jazz style,” delivered through the filter of someone from a younger generation.
The best example of fusing the old and the new can be found on “Drive,” the title song on her new CD. “Drive” is a 1984 pop song by The Cars, a new wave American rock band. “Basically,” said Michelle, “I take the ballad that everybody heard in the ‘80s at school dances and set my wonderful jazz musicians on it. I am most interested in the lyrics and the meaning of a song … Philadelphia has a rich range of world-class jazz musicians, and I’ve been lucky to work with them.”
Pianist Orrin Evans, a two-time Grammy nominee and Pew Fellow who will be playing with Michelle, is recognized as one of the most distinctive and innovative pianists of the day. The New York Times said his impressive template of ideas keeps him on the forefront of the music scene.
“Jazz guitarist Sonny Troy, 76, is the most amazing accompanist I’ve ever worked with,” Michelle said. Sonny began his career as Frankie Avalon’s music director and guitarist. He went on to work with Louis Prima, Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie and other jazz legends.
On tenor sax, Larry McKenna, also 76, is another Philadelphia legend. He has a national reputation as a master improviser in bebop and the modern jazz style of the ‘50s and ‘60s. He played with Woody Herman, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. “His playing is so natural and so lovely. Because of their ages and experience, Larry and Sonny are precious to me. They are the reason I get up and call 20 clubs every day to try and get gigs.”
Anwar Marshall, who is several decades younger than Sonny and Larry, is one of Philadelphia’s most sought-after drummers. Rounding out the band will be bass player Lee Smith, who has worked with jazz greats such as Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also the father of renowned bassist Christian McBride.
With thousands of songs from the Great American Songbook to choose from, what does Michelle look for that makes her want to sing or record a song? “If a song seems relatively happy or if the emotion of a song is one thing but there’s an underlying meaning, then I’m very attracted to it,” she said. Referring to the 1930s song, “The Lamp Is Low,” Michelle said, “You can fit all the words to that song in the palm of your hands. It’s that simple. But it’s an incredibly imaginative song. There’s a sense of melancholy, but it’s also a really sexy song … and you couldn’t write about sex back then!
Michelle came to a career in music fairly recently after spending several years in the business world. She never formally studied music, but as a child she always sang in a chorus and played piano. She has performed at Paris Bistro, Chris’ Jazz Café, and other venues in Philadelphia. Michelle also runs a jam session every Wednesday night at the Vintage Bar and Grill in Abington.
Michelle’s CD, “Drive,” will officially drop in August, but she will have copies available for sale at Pastorius Park. Her first album, Michelle Lordi Sings, was released in 2014. Michelle lives in Huntingdon Valley with her husband Mac Osterneck, an engineer and manufacturer’s representative, and their children, Vivian, 2, and John, 12.
More information about Michelle and her upcoming performances and events at michellelordi.com. More information about the concert series at chestnuthill.org. If it rains, the show will take place at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St.