Saturday, July 6, 2019

Ridgecrest Earthquake Didn’t Faze the Excitement of Kiki Ebsen’s “Jazzin’ Up the 5th of July" at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s

As she’d just concluded her medley, “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’”) from “Broadway Melody of 1936,” entertainer Kiki Ebsen sat at the piano to sing “Missing You,” cowritten by her father, Buddy Ebsen, and his writing partner Zeke Manners. The song is emotional, powerful, and no one else but Kiki can bring it to life as she reflects on the seven-decade career of her father's history. But then a 7.1 earthquake came, at 8:13 p.m, just one day after the foreshock quake in Ridgecrest, CA that was felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada.

As the patrons of Feinstein’s at Vitello’s experienced the earthquake, Kiki remained entirely in control, noting to her crowd, "The exits are there (pointing) and there." She waited the minute for things to settle down, and stated casually, “Well, we’ll keep going now, and just remember if this is the end, you’ll hear my dulcet tones as we’re going into the next world.” The audience laughed, relieved. She said, "Not one of you went for the exits! This is MY kind of audience!" and the crowd again erupted with laughter.

She re-checked, “Are you all really okay?” They assured her they were. She announced, “This is a song called “Missing You,” but I’m a little concerned that if I sing it, the earth is going to start shaking again.” As though addressing her late parents, she continued, “Let’s cool it up there. When I ask for help, that’s not the kind of help I was asking for!” The audience laughed and, without missing a beat, she went easily into her song.

Videographer Gregory Gast captured the following video of Kiki, before, during and after the quake, and you just have to hear everything she says as she maintains complete calm while sending the audience into gales of laughter. That's the mark of a real professional! This lady deserves her own TV show. Priceless comedy combined with total calm, and she sings so beautifully. Kiki Ebsen is the real deal.

Clifford Bell, jazz and cabaret empressario, offered the perfect bon mot on Facebook. He posted a photo of Kiki onstage with the caption:

At Kiki Ebsen‘s fabulous show with a packed house at Feinstein’s At Vitello’s. And EARTHQUAKE. She handled it beautifully but that was a little like The Poseidon Adventure. And the Chandelier was swinging. I hope she sings ‘The Morning After.’
Kaylene Peoples, musician/composer/publisher, added: “We survived the rolling. Kiki Ebsen is the ultimate performer and handled the situation like the pro that she is!” Those were just two of the real-time social media posts that captured the excitement and the calm of the evening, securely in Kiki’s hands.

After the show, Ebsen said, “Naturally, I realized we'd had an earthquake, but I knew I had a responsibility to my audience to assure we were all safe, the staff was safe, and we could go on with our show, as that’s why everyone had come.” Longtime fan, Jeffrey Dalrymple from North Carolina, in town on business, came dressed Hollywood style; others also chose to adopt the style of the grand old days of Hollywood.

What a difference a new perspective can bring to a performer when they take the stage at a once familiar, yet newly redesigned, venue such as Feinstein’s at Vitello’s was last evening! The evening had just started with jazz instrumental "On Green Dolphin Street."

[L to R: Grant Geissman, Lee Meriwether, Kiki Ebsen, Debby Boone, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.] Ebsen invited two dear longtime friends to join her, Grammy-winning singer, entertainer Debby Boone, and actress Lee Meriwether, two-time Golden Globe and Emmy nominee.

Kiki intended this show as a one-time tribute to the golden age of "Old Hollywood," and its brightest stars, including Meriwether. Kiki's teen years intersected with Buddy's "Barnaby Jones" days and she recalled occasional family celebrations in classic venues such as Chasen's and Musso & Frank's. For most of her teen years, the younger Ebsen children lived near the Santa Monica mountains, away from the bright lights, but still Kiki remembered the stories of the grandest days of Hollywood jazz.

She invited renowned jazz pianist Jeff Colella as Musical Director, along with dynamic drummer Kendall Kay, who has worked with Kiki since 1993, superb bass player Granville “Danny” Young, and inimitable saxophonist Kim Richmond (from their "K Project” jazz) to set the mood for the show she called “Jazzing Up the 5th of July.” [Below, L to R: Jeff Colella, Kiki Ebsen, Granville Young, Kendall Kay, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.]

Three-time Emmy nominee for composing, jazz guitar great Grant Geissman joined Kiki on four songs. Geissman is prominent in Kiki’s Joni Mitchell Project band, and he's part of Kiki’s new CD of original songs, coming soon. Thus, the perfect evening was set.

Champion of the Great American Songbook, musician/conductor Michael Feinstein, had recently partnered with Vitello’s owner Brad Roen to debut the all-new Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. As the band opened the show with “On Green Dolphin Street,” a 1940s tune that went perfectly with the club’s new ambience.

As Ebsen took the stage, she continued the music of early Hollywood with “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’,” both from the movie “Broadway Melody of 1936,” paying tribute to Buddy Ebsen's passing, July 6, 2003.

Kiki continued with “Devil May Care,” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Burke, then was delighted to bring actress and singer Lee Meriwether to the stage to sing “Rendezvous,” a song written by Buddy Ebsen and Zeke Manners. Beginning her Hollywood career officially when she was crowned Miss America 1955, Lee Ann Meriwether has been a star of film and stage for so long, it’s hard to name all the works she’s been famous for. One of her favorite roles, though, was as Buddy Ebsen’s daughter-in-law Betty, on CBS' “Barnaby Jones,” produced by the prolific Quinn Martin. For eight seasons audiences loved Lee, who's said often that she adored the opportunity to work with Buddy.

Ebsen followed with a powerful arrangement of “Twisted,” written by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, and lyrics by Annie Ross. Stories about growing up in Hollywood were shared between tunes. Before “Moon River” Ebsen related how excruciating it was as a child to see her father’s heart breaking on that screen every time that film was seen.

As she sang, one can imagine her childhood reaction seeing tears forming in his resplendent blue eyes. Of all the roles Buddy is known for in multiple arts genres, Kiki's audience was shocked to realize that he had achieved exactly “zero” nominations for EMMYs, Oscars, or Tony Awards. Perhaps that’s the secret to having an enduring career for seven decades—work so hard that you never have time for award nominations to catch up with you!

Following another instrumental, Grant Geissman joined Kiki for “Easy to Love” and “Why Dontcha Do Right?” followed by Kiki weaving her own magic around Joni Mitchell's “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.”

Ebsen then introduced longtime friend, Grammy-award winning singer, Debby Boone, to the stage. Boone shared precious memories of growing up with her family living across the street from the Dean Martin family. She then sang “Everybody Loves Somebody” in a poignant tribute to Martin. Debby's recent album, "Swing This," exhibits her mastery of the music she loves. Boone still tours the country in concert and occasionally performs her "Reflections of Rosemary" as a tribute to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney.

Kiki returned to the stage to sing “Codfish Ball,” from the Buddy Ebsen–Shirley Temple film, “Captain January.” Ebsen then pulled out a letter that Buddy had written during the filming of that movie, addressed to his parents in Florida. Buddy’s letter and Kiki’s reading of it, sharing insight into a young Shirley Temple were both hilarious. Her rapport with the audience is so clear as Kiki is always at home on stage.

As Ebsen performed “St. Louis Blues,” your mind could easily wander back to the 1958 film “St. Louis Blues,” the story of W. C. Handy, starring Eartha Kitt, and Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, and Cab Calloway. Kiki mentioned she'd discovered a beautiful magazine photo of Eartha Kitt with her dad in Chasen's, enjoying martinis and conversation. That's part of old Hollywood evenings, time for cocktails, conversation, dinner, and music following. Today's Hollywood entertainment tries hard to recreate the "events" of yesteryear, but at least in the new Feinstein's, the setting is just right.

Ebsen prefaced her last song, “If I Only Had a Brain,” with the story of how Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Original Tin Man. She was joined by Grant Geissman for her powerful rendition as the audience reflected on what it had to have been like for Ebsen to hear he had a major role, as the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. Yet, he never once revealed that heartbreak to his own children during his life. [Left: Grant Geissman and Kiki Ebsen; photo by Clifford Bell.]

There’s a favorite old saying, “Don’t miss something that only happens once in a lifetime.” As proof of its veracity, concluding the evening, Kiki invited Debby and Lee back to the stage. The trio blended on a priceless rendition of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” showcasing the loving friendship and admiration shared by two Hollywood generations, each talented on their own.

Kiki then announced to the audience the fall debut of her newly expanded and revised stage presentation, “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” set to premiere the weekend of September 6–8 at Hollywood’s oldest continually operating Theatre West. She also invited the audience to visit the ticket link at, to obtain a 20% discount from 7/6–7/22 for Early Bird general admission seats.

With that, the audience jumped to their feet, applauding, reacting to priceless moments of Hollywood magic they’d experienced, for a few fleeting hours in that special club. If you missed it because it was a sold-out show, you have another opportunity to get in on the beauty of more Hollywood excitement of a different type, coming this September.

There’s more magic in the true story of Buddy Ebsen’s legendary career. And with Kiki Ebsen as your guide to the past, you're guaranteed a magnificent presentation of his life, in song, story, and dance. No parent could hope to be remembered as beautifully as Kiki remembers her dad.

A favorite quote from Buddy Ebsen goes:

"Remember, that of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important, the most essential, the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish obstacles is--Spirit."

Just as she soared and flew on the wings of jazz at Feinstein's at Vitello's, continuing her father's tradition, even in the face of an earthquake, Kiki Ebsen will always move you with her spirit, style, and talent.