The McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea dates back to 1939, so it’s the perfect place for Judith Owen and her Gentlemen Callers — a sublime band of New Orleans musicians — to be performing lost songs from the 40s and 50s by female jazz singers of the period.
Inside the Byzantine McKittrick- home of “Sleep No More” — there’s a romantic jazz club called the Mandalay that looks like something out of “Twin Peaks” with deep red banquettes and even redder velvet curtains. It like’s stepping into a time warp. That’s where I found Owen and her sensational group on Wednesday night at 10:30 at night. If you love real music, you can’t miss this show.
Judith Owen does a lot of things, all right: singer songwriter, jazz, Broadway tunes, R&B. She’s been at it for a while now, and even had a big hit with the song, “Here.” British, her first love is New Orleans, where she lives with husband humorist and comedic actor Harry Shearer, of “SNL,” “Spinal Tap,” and Christopher Guest fame. She has a most unique voice that runs the range from Peggy Lee to belting.
Looking jaunty in an angled white fedora, Owen and the Callers put on about a dozen numbers that alternately spotlight the voice and the band which includes David Torkanowsky on piano, Lex Warshawsky on Bass. Portugese drummer Pedro Segundo, Dave Blenkhorn with a killer guitar. And then there’s her super duo of Ricardo Pascal on sax and Kevin Louis with his spectacular cornet. That they all complement each is the delight of the show.
So this real music, not the stuff we are bombarded with all day. Live music. What a thing. The show begins with Blossom Dearie’s “Blossom’s Blues” and ends with Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell on You.” Owen excels at comic numbers like Julia Lee’s early R&B hits “The Spinach Song” and “Snatch and Grab It.” She can make even those G rated lyrics sound lascivious.
In the old days, everyone went to Reno Sweeney’s, then the Algonquin, or Rainbow and Stars for an Owen evening. Catch her before she winds up at a high price place like 54 Below or even the Carlyle. Because that’s what comes next.
PS This is not what she’s doing in this show, unless you scream for it at the very end. But FYI