Jazz Artists Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne "don't just sing: We tell stories about the artists," says Bentyne.


Remember when there was a bomb shelter in every backyard and a communist hiding behind every bush? When everybody smoked wherever they wanted to and martinis fueled many a business lunch? When the 1950s economy was booming and there were jazz tunes on the pop charts?

On the East Coast, bebop was the juice. But on the West Coast, life was cool. Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, June Christy, Julie London and Bobby Troup (who wrote "Route 66") helped keep the amps down and the music swinging.

"It was relaxed sophistication," said singer/songwriter Mark Winkler. "The music and the chords were complex, but it always swung."

Now Winkler is on the road with Cheryl Bentyne, another enthusiast of the period and a longtime member of the classic pop group Manhattan Transfer.

Winkler and Bentyne are bringing their own show, "West Coast Cool," to Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Friday.

"Audiences appreciate this music and this period," said Bentyne. "They always tell us 'Nobody ever does these songs.' "

"And we don't just sing: We tell stories about the artists - stories people don't necessarily know.

"The songs themselves are captivating and provocative. They lend themselves to theatricality," she continued.

The popularity of "West Coast Cool" was so convincing, Winkler and Bentyne have recorded an album of the music. The official release date is in September, but copies will be available at this concert.

Included on the 14-track song list are "Something Cool," "Let's Get Lost," "Senor Blues" and of course, "Route 66."

"Cheryl had some really good ideas when we sat down to talk about the show," said Winkler. "And I had already written or co-written five musical revues, so I knew how to string songs together."

One of those shows, "Naked Boys Singing," has been playing off-Broadway for 14 years. Winkler said, "It's always playing somewhere. There's a production in Australia, too."

He also wrote the musical "Bark," which had a well-received Tucson production in 2007.

Winkler is a devoted film noir buff who loves everything about the 1950s with a passion. One of his 11 CDs is an entire album of songs by Bobby Troup.

Both performers agree jazz singers in the 1950s had a unique quality to their voices, reflecting the mythos of that period. Maybe it was from all that political tension of the Cold War, or the compulsive materialism that was beginning to emerge when so many American cars had tail fins.

Bentyne credits Carmen McRae and Julie London, both of them former big band singers, for having the courage to step out on their own when the era of big bands ended. She loves the intimacy both singers conveyed on their own.

"For me it's always that West Coast mystique," said Winkler. "The martinis, all that drinking. Although I don't drink," he added quickly.

"I wouldn't know if a martini was shaken or stirred. I'm pretty square in that regard."

Backing Winkler and Bentyne will be Sly Slipetsky, keyboards; Jack Wood, bass; and Fred Hayes, drums.

The American Cancer Society is co-sponsoring the "West Coast Cool" show because Cheryl Bentyne is a cancer survivor and strong supporter of cancer prevention, treatment, finding cures and fighting back. The Cancer Society's participation is in recognition of Bentyne's ongoing support.


• What: Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler perform "West Coast Cool"

• Presented by: Tucson Jazz Society

• When: 7 p.m. Friday

• Where: Kiva Ballroom, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive

• Tickets: $30 in advance, $35 at the door; discounts available.

• Information, reservations: 903-1265, www.tucsonjazz.org