The Rossano Sportiello Trio has breezed into the Café Carlyle (June 11-22, 2013) with its show called “The Smiling Piano: A Tribute to the Artistry of Jazz Piano Icon George Shearing.” The word “smiling” is apt. On opening night Sportiello, at the piano, wore a broad grin throughout the performance. He had plenty to smile about. For one thing, it was clear that he enjoyed what he was doing. For another, he could take pride in the quality of what the trio was delivering.
Sportiello, originally from Italy, was trained in classical music and, as he tells it, he had to hide his joy at also playing jazz from his music teacher. This dual interest has stayed with him, so that he can play classics with a jazz bent and jazz with a classic bent, as well as the two genres in their own form. He has two excellent musicians with him. His bass player Frank Tate played at the Café Carlyle with Bobby Short for nine years. (Tate plays through June 15, after which he will be replaced by Joel Forbes.) Dennis Mackrel adds further skill on drums. Smooth is the word for the collaboration.
Sportiello, who talked a lot about how he has idolized Shearing’s style, copies it in some ways while interjecting his own. In addition to playing some of Shearing’s compositions, he gave his interpretations of Harry Warren’s “September in the Rain” and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Call Me Irresponsible.” He veered to Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring,” paired with the Rodgers-Hart “Spring is Here.” There was a sharp bounce to Joe Buskin’s “Oh, “Look at Me Now.”
A sense of fun permeated Sportiello’s choices, as when he expressed delight in venturing into “Sound of Music” territory with “Edelweiss” and “Climb Every Mountain.” But rest assured, his interpretations don’t sound like anybody else’s and he included piano solo riffs that soared with revelations of his training and skill.
A major example on opening night was his jazz treatment of “Just One of Those Things” by Cole Porter, who, he said, was one of his favorite composers. You might say that this is one of those appearances that is different from the general Carlyle fare—no vocalizing, just delightful music. One gets the feeling that Sportiello would like to have become a classical concert musician if it were not for his added love for jazz. He has devised a program that has it both ways, and the result is a very satisfactory, classy musical evening for Carlyle Café patrons. At the Café Carlyle, Carlyle Hotel, Madison Avenue at 76th Street. www.thecarlyle.com. Reviewed June 12, 2013.