Cleburne’s Songbird Live owner Tom Burkett continues to bring a variety of music to downtown. Dallas classical pianist Melani Skybell performs this and next weekend having already played two shows last week.
“She played a solo show last Friday,” Songbird owner Tom Burkett said. “But then her husband, Nick Tsolainos, joined her on bass Saturday night and I tell you he was just absolutely great, my new favorite bass player. He’ll be joining her again for this weekend’s shows.”
Born in San Antonio, Skybell said her desire to sing and play piano dates from her youth, passions she carried to Boston University where she majored in classical piano.
“But then I left much to my parent’s chagrin,” Skybell said. “I’ve done alright since so they’re proud of me now, but then I took a detour as a pop keyboardist in the ’80s to play in a rock and pop band.”
Skybell’s membership in that band, Innocent Bystander, began as a lark but soon became a full-time gig.
“I didn’t plan on staying long,” Skybell said. “But they were very successful. We were playing big shows opening for national acts.”
The detour was fun, Skybell said, but she yearned to return to her roots as a classical and jazz pianist and singer. Realizing she had to “retrain” herself, Skybell moved to Dallas to attend the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Arlington.
A consummate performer, Skybell’s delivery swings, punctuated by moments of fun and surprise as she runs through her set of covers and originals.
“My forte is old jazz standards from the ’30s and ’40s,” Skybell said. “But I’ve written several tunes although I start off with the remakes of the classic songs first to get the audience’s attention and get them on familiar ground then spread out to other things and a few originals.”
Several Skybell penned songs are featured in TV shows and supplied music online sites and other venues.
“One was used in a ‘Breaking Bad’ episode,” Skybell said. “They liked the song, but wanted it as just an instrumental so I went back in the studio and removed the vocals.”
Skybell’s repertoire ranges from Duke Ellington to Nat King Cole to Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter to latter day pop of Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel, the Beatles and “a sprinkling” of Norah Jones.
Although she has her own style, Skybell jokes that she’s received the inevitable comparisons to Diana Krall for years.
“I got that even before she was that well known,” Skybell said. “But it’s a good thing I suppose. They pipe my music through one of the restaurants in Dallas I play and I’ve had people come up after they’ve heard me play and say they thought that was a Diana Krall CD playing.”
In addition to accompaniment by her husband, who also serves as principal bassist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Skybell will be joined by bassist Lou Harlas — who previously appeared at Songbird Live with the Randy and Deborah Lee Band — the weekend after that.
“I play a lot of solo gigs, but also as a duo or trio other times,” Skybell said. “Solo gets lonely and I think I sing and play better with someone doing bass lines.”
Skybell plays Songbird Live on Friday and Saturday and again on Feb. 21-22. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $15.
Tickets may be purchased before shows or at Songbird’s box office, which is open 12-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Songbird is at 210 E. Henderson St.
For information, call 817-489-4840 or visit www.songbirdlive.com. The website includes video clips of Skybell and upcoming performers.
For information on Skybell, visit www.skybellmusic.com.