UCSB’s Arts & Lectures is only two performances deep into their jam-packed fall schedule, and if Thursday night’s program was any indication, they’ve got quite the season ahead of them. Taking to the Campbell Hall stage promptly at 8 p.m., the 16-piece Hollywood Jazz Orchestra successfully warmed up the crowd with a spirited rendition of Benny Goodman’s “Bugle Call Rag” and William “Count” Basie’s “Blues in Hoss’ Flat.”
Although backed by an arsenal of talented musicians, Steve Tyrell was still able to steal the show. Opening his set with Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” and “I’ve Got the World on a String”-the latter of which hit near perfection with tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard’s scene-stealing solo-Tyrell followed every tune with a humble “thank you” to his audience and band. And while Sinatra songs made a strong showing in the first portion of Tyrell’s onstage stint, it wasn’t long before the crooner turned to the favorites. Before launching into “Just the Way You Look Tonight” (the song that put Tyrell’s voice on the map when he performed it in the 1991 film Father of the Bride), he commented jokingly about his ongoing musical love affair with Diane Keaton films. (He can also be heard on the soundtracks to Keaton films Father of the Bride II and Something’s Gotta Give.) “I hope she keeps making movies ‘til she’s 90 years old,” he laughed.
Half-way through the set Tyrell, loosened up even more, telling comic tales and trivia-style stories about friends (Quincy Jones, the entire Sinatra clan), and luminaries (Isham Jones, Gus Kahn, and Duke Ellington, to name a few). Standards like Louis Armstrong’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” Sinatra’s “It Had to Be You,” and Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” proved to be hands-down highlights, each peppered with jovial trumpet solos and piano breakdowns. Tyrell held his own on quieter hits like Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and the show-closing “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” but shined the brightest when bantering and scatting alongside his fellow stage mates, giving thanks and expressing genuine gratitude for the people he’s met and the life he’s lived. “At the time [Father of the Bride became a hit] grunge music was huge,” he said. “Every song was about committing suicide. I was the farthest thing from what was popular at that time.” And standing before us, Tyrell’s observation served as quiet proof that good songwriting is truly timeless.