Before last Thursday night’s performance at Campbell Hall, I thought that Steve Tyrell might be a good jazz singer. That’s because, before last Thursday night, I had not innocently accepted two tickets to what I thought would be a harmless, perhaps entertaining performance. Before last Thursday night, I thought pre-baby boomer musical tastes were trustworthy, varying from classical music to quality jazz – key word: quality. However, within minutes of Thursday’s show, my girlish hopes were dashed, replaced by an insincere, pornographic imitation of Frank Sinatra who oozed so much cheap sleaze, showering afterwards was a necessity.
As it turns out, people over 65 have a massive affinity for this baby-faced “jazz” performer who embodies every karaoke cliché in existence. Finger snapping? Yup. Pelvic thrusts? You got it. Steve Tyrell, a former producer whose gravelly voice lends itself to misnomers like “bourbon-soaked” and “friendly southern growl,” got his start in 1991 when his cover of the irritatingly ubiquitous “The Way You Look Tonight” appeared in the film “Father of the Bride.” Since that instant classic, Tyrell has released an album of Disney remakes – surprise! – and given a bad name to the last 15 years of Diane Keaton’s film career, all while “traveling around the world with ‘The Great American Songbook.'”
What Tyrell really means is that he has taken American songbook masterpieces and reworked them with terrible arrangements so they sound both “Aw, shucks” cheesy and inappropriately sexual. Tyrell punctuated “All of Me,” the George and Ira Gershwin classic, with uncomfortable “Oh yeahs,” and “Hit it, boys!” as both the backing Hollywood Jazz Orchestra and I looked on, mute with embarrassment. Perhaps the jazz orchestra members thought if they remained completely still in their chairs, they could blend into the stage background. I sympathized. Watching Tyrell was akin to watching Paris Hilton accept a phantom Oscar statuette in her mirror with a hairbrush, believing it was the real thing. Someone must have deluded this man into thinking he was singing in a Vegas showroom instead of in Campbell Hall, where a vast percentage of the audience was wearing hearing aids.
Somehow, most of the audience members looked like they were enjoying themselves, which leads me to wonder about the real purpose of listening to music. Does an audience want to be challenged, or does it just want to hear its favorite hits made easily digestible, so it can say “Oooh” during slow dances at a wedding? Much to my dismay, Steve Tyrell has fooled American seniors into believing he is a musician, while he is more like an intoxicated uncle with a cute vocal gimmick who hogs the mic at a bat mitzvah, then hits on your best friend over a bowl of potato chips. In other words, he makes me want to hide in a hole. Memo to America: Stevie is sleazy. Send him to Vegas if possible, or ship him off to a local bar next Tuesday night: Karaoke championships are calling.