(Mark Winkler is a local singer and is once again performing at Vitello's this Saturday.)
Mark Winkler is simply cool.
It's not that he's simple—nor cold in any way—but "simply cool" is a perfect description of this local jazz lyricist who will be performing Saturday night (Nov. 19) and singing new works from his latest 11th album at Upstairs at Vitello's in Studio City.
A life-long Los Angeleno, Winkler says he loves performing at Vitello's, "It's one of my favorite places to play."
It's an intimate club, with a state-of-the-art sound system, good lighting and "the person who runs it, April Williams, is a friend to the artist," he says.
And, as cool as he seems, he points out, "It's pretty hot at Vitello's."
Of course, he means that with such talent like Sally Kellerman, Billy Vera, Poncho Sanchez and other notables playing there regularly—and Michael Sterling on Monday nights—there's a world of diverse, edgy entertainment at the club. And, it continues to solidify Studio City as the hub of great jazz entertainment.
"I like that Vitello's is a place that is in a community, it's near a residential area, it has really good food, and you can find a place to park," Winkler smiles. "It's a neighborhood place. People drive in from all over, but people drop in from the neighborhood, too."
The crowd that comes to see him is diverse, and those who appreciate Winkler's style of simple, cool jazz, run the gamut from the 20-somethings to the gray-haireds. He's not retro, no, no. He's not out to tweak a nostalgic heartstring, nor overwhelm you with ballads, nor time-warp you to the past.
"I'm all for the moment, the present, and I want people to have a good time," he winks. "My life inspires me."
More than 150 of his songs are recorded and/or sung by Liza Minnelli, Dianne Reeves, Randy Crawford and Lea Salonga. The plantimum-selling singer/lyricist co-wrote songs for shows such as "Naked Boys Singing!" and "Bark," a dog musical—and he is quite a dog lover.
He has a few crowd pleasers in his repertoire. "How Can that Make You Fat?" is his Cole Porter-esque homage to indulging diets with an admittedly Randy Newman-ish attitude. His melodious "In a Lonely Place" was inspired by a film noir Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name, and his sassy song "Sissies" about Truman Capote is both biting and campy.
"I think 'Sissies' is about as political as I get," Winkler says. "I don't want to be too on the nose."
One favorite you're likely to hear Saturday night is a true story inspired by another San Fernando Valley singer.
"The song 'Somewhere in Brazil' is actually based on a true story about a singer who is kind of a diva who was singing at a club in Encino," Winkler explains. People are talking over her singing, and she thinks she's the best singer in the world, but then the piano player chimes in and sings about her and says that she stinks.
This will be Winkler's last performance of the year because after this gig, he's flying to New York to see "Play it Cool," the show written by Martin Casella and Larry Dean Harris, with music written by Philip Swann and lyrics by Winkler. The New York Musical Theatre Festival is performing it. Meanwhile, "Naked Boys Singing!" continues to play in Las Vegas and "Bark" just recently was staged in Redondo Beach.
He's written words for nearly a quarter century, but only has performed in the last four years. After watching his works being staged for decades, he thinks he knows how to do it. "I've seen good and bad shows, I know what makes a show good or bad, and so I just decided to do it," he says.
He also teaches "Crafting Great Lyrics: A Songwriters Workshop" at UCLA Extension, and says, "I like to teach people how to create their own successful CD."
He is also producing a jazz CD "Presenting Dolores Scozzesi" through Rhombus Records that should also be ready soon.
In his show, he will be working with a team he's performed with for the past year-and-a-half: Eli Brueggemann on piano, Steve Barnes on drums, Ryan McGillicuddy on bass and Kim Richmond on anything with a reed.
Winkler sings a finger-snapping rendition of "Route 66," and "Scattin' in the Moonlight," and he'll being singing "Sweet Spot" (see the video attached in the photo gallery above) with his all-new material.
He will also be singing his own version of "On Broadway" that has a bit of "vocaleeze," he says.
"And that's as close to rap as I'm ever going to get," he smiles coolly.
Winkler's show cost $20 and is on Saturday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. at Vitello's at 4349 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. Call (818) 769-0905 or buy tickets online at www.ticketweb.com.