Spending Valentine's Day with a bunch of lawyers may not sound like a recipe for a romantic night out. But when those lawyers are part of the jazz vocal group Singers in Law, who play the E Spot Lounge at Vitello's this Sunday, giving Feb. 14 a legal twist suddenly sounds a whole lot more appealing. (Get it? "Appeal"-ing? Sorry, we'll try to keep the law jokes to a minimum.)
Singers in Law grew out of another lawyer-centric musical group, the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic, and its choir, Legal Voices, who perform mostly classical and symphonic pieces. (Los Angeles, it turns out, is full of "conservatory-level musicians" who got into law practice, says Singers in Law's tenor, Ken Freundlich.) "We were backstage at Disney Hall, just waiting to go on," remembers the quartet's alto, Linda Hurevitz. "And Ken walked over to me and sat down and the two of us started singing together spontaneously."
"Linda and I understood very quickly that we had jazz in our background," says Freundlich, an entertainment attorney.
"And we looked at each other and said, 'We should sing together,'" adds Hurevitz, a labor and employment trial attorney.
Through Legal Voices, Freundlich and Hurevitz also met their group's baritone, John Blumberg, a medical and legal malpractice plaintiff's attorney, and their pianist, Arthur Gilbert, the presiding justice of the Second District (Division Six) of California's Court of Appeals. Gilbert's wife, Barbara, a soprano and retired court reporter, completed the Singers in Law vocal quartet, while a trio of other lawyers — William Ryan (guitar), Eric Schaefer (bass) and Jerry Levine (drums) — were recruited to join the Honorable Justice Gilbert in the "Just-Us Quartet" that accompanies the singers at most of their shows.
"We have become really good friends," says Freundlich of the group's members, who have performed together since early 2013. "It's almost like we have a family between the eight of us. I think music has the ability to do that."
Their repertoire includes one original, an autobiographical number called "The Singers in Law," along with a mix of tunes from the Great American Songbook — some dating back to the beginning of last century, but all given fresh arrangements by Singers in Law's musical director (and Hurevitz's husband), Jerry A. Ranger. (As to whether or not that's Jerry's actual middle initial and last name, they plead the Fifth.)
Blumberg cites Irving Berlin's 1915 classic "I Love a Piano" as an example of the group's approach: "It doesn't sound like we're singing it through a megaphone. It's got some really contemporary harmonies in it, so the song really moves."
"What we're hoping to do is make these songs come alive for people that aren't octogenarians," Freundlich adds. "Not that I have anything against octogenarians."
Geography makes rehearsals a challenge — Blumberg lives in Seal Beach, the Gilberts in Pacific Palisades, Freundlich and Hurevitz in the Valley — as do their often-demanding work schedules. But they manage to meet at least once a week, and two or three times that often before any of their 15 to 20 shows per year (a commitment that can be heard in the group's airtight, Manhattan Transfer–like harmonies). Even in the midst of a trial or demanding legal case, they say, it's worth the effort.
"The truth is, coming to these rehearsals is as rejuvenating as any activity can be," says Freundlich. "There's just something that happens when you open your mouth and sing. I think any singer will tell you that. There's just something very freeing about the whole experience."
Most of their shows are for private events, such as law firms' holiday parties and charity functions; they've sung for City of Hope and Ascencia, a Glendale-based advocacy group for the homeless, among many others. They also occasionally perform with Gary Greene, Esq. and His Big Band of Barristers, an 18-piece jazz band also affiliated with the L.A. Lawyers Philharmonic. But they've played Vitello's before and look forward to doing more shows there and elsewhere around the L.A. jazz scene.
So how does a group of six lawyers, a justice and a former court reporter arrive at group decisions regarding arrangements, repertoire and other aspects of running Singers in Law? Do the group members fall back on their legal training when making the case for adding a particular old Sinatra standard to the set list?
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"We are argumentative," Hurevitz admits. "That's a fair statement."
Singers in Law with the Just-Us Quartet perform at Vitello's in Studio City on Sunday, Feb. 14, at 8 p.m. More info.