Famed pianist, singer opens concert season with reworked pop, country, more

Jazz singer Carol Welsman’s list of friends includes stars such as Celine Dion. She has performed with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock. She has sung for U.S. presidents.

But the Canadian-born pianist who has earned six Juno Award nominations, Canada’s version of a Grammy, was a bit clueless about country icon Willie Nelson. So when someone suggested she record a soft, jazzy arrangement of the artist’s 1980 hit, “On the Road Again,” all she could recall were a couple of lines of the song she heard on a K-tel record commercial.

She resorted to YouTube to hear the whole version. And quickly, she was on the road to a whole new creative connection with audiences.

“That song gets the biggest response of any I do,” said Welsman, chuckling while speaking by phone during a business stop in New York City. “And it’s because people immediately know it.”

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The road brings the 50-year-old Welsman to Columbus to open the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s new Cabaret at The Commons season at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13. She will bring a bass player and drummer, not to mention a new disc of tunes, “Alone Together” — a release that won’t hit the larger market until next month — for people to enjoy and purchase.

She promises that her Cuban-born percussionist will add a special spice to her musical flavoring.

“He’s extra entertaining just to watch and, of course, to hear,” she said.

Welsman earns the same accolades from music critics and others, offering a versatile repertoire spanning jazz, Latin, rhythm and blues, swing and pop.

With many audiences, however, she is best known for her interpretation of standards of the late Peggy Lee such as the whimsical “I Like Men.” She also has recorded a dog-inspired pop song, “Cold Nose, Warm Heart,” which inspired its own Facebook page.

The song, written with a friend, grew out of “dog play days” the two enjoyed together when Welsman was home in Los Angeles with her two Labradors, Lucy and Boomer. Welsman sees her pooches as great therapy.

But her listeners often find her music therapeutic — perhaps because besides English, she sings in the lyrical languages of French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish.

“It’s powerful when people come up to me to say, ‘I was diagnosed with cancer last year and your music helped me through my treatment,’” Welsman said.

Some of her tunes do offer a soothing touch, whether intentional or not. Hear her croon the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” and the original, upbeat pop hit takes on a relaxing, meditative tone.

Margaret Powers, the Philharmonic’s executive director, said she sees Welsman’s eclectic musical style as a good draw for the local 400-seat events that began in January.

“I think people who have come to the cabarets like that kind of variety,” Powers said.

Welsman mentioned that her more intimate performances such as this one hardly require a belting style.

“Actually, one of the most effective parts of my performance is when I’m almost whispering,” she said.

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Who: Jazz singer and pianist Carol Welsman, performing songs mostly from her three most recent releases, including cover tunes from artists as varied as Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell.

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Tickets: $50 VIP Seating, includes post-cabaret party; $30 preferred seating; and $15 general admission. Ticket office open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 315 Franklin St. Or order online at thecip.org.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.