Dressed like a pinup girl from a bygone era, Jennifer Keith carries the torch for great American music. The California native and Hollywood legacy (she’s a descendent of B.F. Keith, as in Radio-Keith-Orpheum, a.k.a. RKO Pictures, one of the major studios of cinema’s golden age) has a deep, rich vocal delivery that answers this question: What would Patsy Cline sound like if she had sung jazz?
This winter, Keith will perform a series of engagements at the Cosmopolitan with her Jennifer Keith Quintet, featuring Royal Crown Revue co-founder Mando Dorame on saxophone. Unlike typical nostalgia acts, half of Keith’s material consists of original songs written by her and Dorame. (Check out Keith’s sound on her 2011 album Jenny Is Her Name.) Even the covers have a fresh twist.
What’s unique about your performance style?
When a lot of people hear the words “jazz standards,” they tend to think of them as lazy, or boring or just not showy. What we try to do is play these timeless songs, but make them more exciting so a younger audience can also enjoy it.
Is that where your original songs come in to play?
Exactly. We’ve been working on our own material for a couple of years now. We have the most amazing musicians from Royal Crown Revue. They’re all incredible songwriters. And with our passion being the golden age of American music, our own material definitely adds to it.
Who are the songwriters that you admire?
Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and the Gershwins.
How do you like the Cosmopolitan?
I couldn’t think of a better place than the Cosmopolitan. It’s great because we’re right in the middle of the casino, people are walking by and you can hear us two floors up. Maybe folks hear a song and remember their parents playing a version for them, and then they get drawn in to how we’re doing them a little differently.
So the Vegas mystique goes along with what you’re doing?
We love the old Vegas thing. Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima and Keely Smith—they all had these fantastic lounge acts. That’s what we’re trying to bring back, where people can go get a drink at the bar, sit back in a lounge and be thoroughly entertained.