Jazz Times Review

Sylvia Brooks: Dangerous Liaisons

Christopher Loudon on new album from actress/singer Sylvia Brooks

Sylvia Brooks has the look of a classic Hollywood femme fatale, suggesting an auburn-haired variation on Veronica Lake with a hint of Rita Hayworth. And Brooks sings precisely the way she looks – a dark, smoky sound with impressive firepower that seems tailor-made for the sort of plush, palm-treed nightclubs that dotted L.A. in the 1940s and ’50s. Those intimate boîtes — spots like Ciro’s, The Tally-Ho, The Encore and the richly historied Cocoanut Grove — are gone now, but Brooks is rapidly emerging as an SRO favorite at the chic venues that have replaced them, including Catalina’s, the Jazz Bakery and Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club. Now, with the release of Brooks’ debut CD, the aptly titled Dangerous Liaisons, the wider world can share Los Angelinos’ discovery of her alluring sultriness. Brooks can swing hot and hard, as illustrated by a blistering “Never Dance” and an equally scorching “Sway.” She can also swing brightly, taking “Come Rain or Come Shine” at mid-tempo to ably capture the depth of the Arlen/Mercer gem’s ardor, and holding her torch high on a sweltering “When the Sun Comes Out.”

But Brooks is perhaps best at examining love’s murkier corners. That she was an accomplished actress before she set her focus on singing is evident in her tackling of four of the most challenging numbers in the entire American songbook — “Sophisticated Lady,” “Lush Life,” “One for My Baby” and “The Man That Got Away” (the latter mistakenly credited to Harold Arlen and George Gershwin, when it was Ira Gershwin who crafted the lyric, 16 years after his brother’s demise). They are the Mount Rushmore of 3 a.m. tunes, and many a capable vocalist has failed at scaling even one of them. That Brooks ably captures the near-maddening disillusionment and bourbon-fueled bitterness that pervade all four is testament to her estimable storytelling skills. But significant credit is also due Brooks’ arrangers. Top of the list is Tom Gavin, whose masterful touch adorns seven of the album’s ten tracks. Kudos, too, to saxophonist/flautist Kim Richmond who teamed with Gavin to shape “The Man That Got Away” and single-handedly put the dizzying swirl in “Sway,” and to pianist Jeff Colella, who painted the film noir backdrop for Brooks’ exquisite, indigo-hued “Harlem Nocturne” and placed “One for My Baby” in an unexpectedly dreamy setting that is stunningly effective.

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Sylvia Brooks in Sensational CD Debut

For Immediate Release
Summer 2010

Dangerous Liaisons

Singer Sylvia Brooks lights up early summer with her CD debut, Dangerous Liaisons – a collection of carefully chosen gems from the Great American Songbook – accompanied by a stellar 8-piece band. The album has been rolled out to general release after garnering enthusiastic response to a limited private issue earlier in the year. With masterful charts by Tom Garvin, Jeff Colella and Kim Richmond, Ms.Brooks cooks up sizzling performances of ten timeless standards familiar to the capacity crowds she draws to such L.A. area venues as Catalina’s, Vitello’s Jazz & Supper Club, and the Jazz Bakery.

Dangerous Liaisons is available through amazon.com, CD Baby, iTunes, and Napster. Initial tracks chosen for airplay by her promotion team, noted jazz specialists Dick LaPalm and Fred Mancuso, are “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “ The Man That Got Away”, and her rare vocal rendition of the classic “Harlem Nocturne”. Sylvia Brooks may be a fresh new face to the worlds of jazz and cabaret, but she is actually a seasoned professional in the art of telling a story, having spent the earlier years of her career as an actor in both straight drama and musical theater – first at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and then in numerous companies across the country. She is a native of Miami and was first introduced to the standards repertoire by her father, a jazz arranger/composer, and her mother, who combined nightclub singing and opera production in her own multi-faceted career. Ms.Brooks has a devoted following in Los Angeles, where she now resides. About the enormous treasure trove of American standard tunes, Ms.Brooks says “This music speaks to me! Like all great art, it is timeless and evokes the struggles and pleasures we live every day. The best singers of the past didn’t just sing – they infused each song with passion and brought their lives to the music. I feel that I’m a part of this continuum each time I sing one of these incredible songs.”

Performance Reviews: Six Time Best Bet Critics Pick – L.A. Times
“…grace and confidence…commanding charisma…dynamic performance.” -L.A. Jazz Scene

For more information about Sylvia Brooks, call 831-620-1332 and visit

LA Jazz Scene Reviews Sylvia Brooks

Sylvia Brooks
By Veronica Dawn

Jazz is certainly no stranger to Sylvia Brooks, a fact extraordinary evident throughout the duration of her encore performance at Catalina Bar and Grill. Brooks returned to Catalina stage on July 16, 2008, where she performed songs from The Great American Songbook masterfully arranged by Tom Garvin.

Sylvia Brooks comes from a solid musical background, growing up with her father a popular jazz pianist and her mother a nightclub performer. “Sitting in the crib and hearing that music, it has to do something to you”, says Brooks. It was inevitable that melodies and harmonies would course rapidly through her veins from a very young age. Through Garvin’s innovative arrangements, this music possesses the ability to convey complex emotions while telling a unique and vivid story through the utilization of refreshing and diverse sounds performed by Brooks and her dynamic sextet.

The venue itself is open and inviting, with what it boasts as “Old World charm”. Sharing the space with a stage framed by a scarlet red curtain and adorned with glistening instruments, the small tabletops are filled with admiring fans anxiously anticipating the music to come. With the opportunity for the spectator to not only enjoy some of the best jazz in the city, but also to sip on a specialty cocktail while savoring a succulent meal, the overall experience and comfort of the Catalina Bar and Grill is one of the reasons the artist is drawn to the venue, choosing to return for this encore performance. Unlike many other jazz clubs in the city, the scene here is friendly and amicable, aside from the highly priced menu and somewhat slow service.

Assuming her rightful position upon the stage, wearing a dress adorned with glamorous green sequence, her dynamic presence is felt throughout the venue as she exudes grace and confidence in her serene stride. Brooks places her delicate hand upon the microphone, her beaming smile radiating throughout the room. As her vocal chords begin to resonate, notes emerge as a stark contrast to her feminine physique, yet match her commanding charisma. There is such a smooth quality to the sound as she opens the night with the captivating and energetic tune, “Live Till I Die”. With jazz melodies such as “Cry Me a River”, effortlessly melting into rhythmic Cuban pulsations like “Sway”, followed by the savvy beats of “Harlem Nocturne” and “Blues in the Night”, the varied selection of music was effectively mixed therefore maintaining a smooth and melodic flow to the evening.

Sylvia credits her dynamic performance to her talented musicians, and I certainly agree for I was justly mesmerized by their extensive musical abilities. Ever so often you encounter a stage such as that at Catalina Bar and Grill the evening of July 16, beaming with multi-talented artists who take immense pleasure in what they do. With Chris Colangello on bass, Kendall Kay on drums, Gary Nasterook on keyboard, Ron Stout on trumpet, Kim Richmond on sax and flute, and Jeff Colella on piano, the chemistry between Brooks and her sextet was passionately obvious as each artist played off the energy of another. The joie de vivre upon the staged effortlessly oozed into the audience, allowing Brooks to develop an intimate link with the spectator, opening each number by the sharing of personal experiences accompanied by genuine eye contact and a friendly smile.

Uniting Sylvia’s experience with a broad range of music, and Garvin’s intense passion for jazz, these two vastly different worlds have been melded together into arrangements catered to fit the singer’s individual style. This relaxed and intimate cabaret setting suits Brooks, with a “certain level of satisfaction in the selection of songs that truly speak to your heart”.

Reviewing her varied credits, it is clear Brooks has spent a great deal of time traveling and performing. When asked if looking to stay in LA for any length of time, she responds with promising ambitions of continued appearances throughout the LA area, “keeping the project intact”, in addition to hopes of one day performing in the European club scene. Throughout the evening, with the support of her brilliant musicians, these gifted artists showcased their individual talents, transporting something innovative and alive to the Catalina stage. As she finished her set with an encore of “I’m Still Here”, it is obvious that Sylvia Brooks is certainly here, and that is definitely a great thing.

Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice

Six Time Best Bet Critic’s Pick – “The Guide” For Jazz And World Artists

“The jazz singer is a respected performer of the Catalina/Jazz Bakery circuit and national theater, and plays a six-night stand with a cracking live band featuring arranger Tom Garvin.”

Dangerous Liaisons Album Review

A fine singer with a very attractive voice, Sylvia Brooks has a glamorous image that is a bit nostalgic of the 1940s and 50s. Her style falls between jazz and cabaret and she emphasizes dramatic renditions of vintage standards.

On Dangerous Liaisons, Ms. Brooks is accompanied by up to eight pieces including pianist Jeff Colella, altoist Kim Richmond, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Kendall Kay, performing arrangements by Tom Garvin, Colella and Richmond. Although there are some brief solos, the spotlight is on the singer throughout and she comes through. Highlights include “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Sway,” “When The Sun Comes Out” and “The Man That Got Away” with “Harlem Nocturne” being the most offbeat choice.

Throughout this date, Sylvia Brooks gives the lyrics plenty of feeling, not being shy to bare her emotions. Although I would like to hear her improvise more in the future and infuse some lesser-known songs with her infectious personality, this is an excellent effort that is well worth picking up. Dangerous Liaisons is available from www.sylviabrooks.net.

Scott Yanow
LA Jazz Scene

LA Weekly Reviews Sylvia Brooks

Sylvia Brooks, directed by Tom Garvin on piano, and backed by Chris Colangello on bass, Kendall Kay on drums, Kim Richmond on sax and flute, and Jamie Havorka on trumpet, performed not so much a concert as dramatic musical monologues of some tasteful 20th Century standards, laced with pop-Latin pieces that may never have been lent such authority before. In the hands of this singer and this group, each song is part of a series of musical vignettes on the theme of the uneven playing field of love. One of the first songs to engage the seasoned and enthusiastic audience at Catalina’s that Wednesday was “The Man That Got Away,” a favorite vehicle for Judy Garland, written by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin.

Ms. Brooks’ voice has a wide range, and her style is influenced by her background in musical theater. She elegantly and eloquently embodies the torch singer archetype, inviting comparisons to Lena Horne and Judy Garland. The band’s precise rhythms complement Ms. Brooks’ personalized renditions, with all elements together making the lyrics more poetic than they are usually presented as. Thus, Brooks is able to out-London Julie London’s signature interpretation of, yes, “Cry Me a River” in a way that indulges the listener to do just that. The Arlen-Mercer song, “One for my Baby (And One More for the Road)” pulls the audience into the site of its little drama, not only making us suspend our disbelief, but our designated driver as well.

Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” in other settings sometimes laborious, lives up to its potential in the voice of and characterization by Ms. Brooks. “Sway,” the 1953 hit covered by everyone, including Dean Martin and Bobby Rydell in its first decade alone, comes from a mambo called Quien Sera, written by Pablo B. Ruiz. It settles back more seriously into its Latin roots under the control of this production. Even the turn-of-the-last-century “Never Dance” (Never kiss the way that he kissed me) sounds more authentic.

In a week of festivities, Sylvia Brooks and her band carved out a drama and a sound which was its own celebration, and a high-art homage to an era which is too often merely made nostalgic.

The LA Weekly.