With a look that evokes Julie Newmar on a blond day, Bay Area chanteuse Veronica Klaus is serving up the music of jazz singer Peggy Lee for two nights at the Rrazz Room next week.
After more than two decades on stages in The City, Klaus has developed an ability to switch from the bawd to the siren and back with ease, so it’s surprising how soft-spoken, almost genteelly shy, she is off stage.
The low-key demeanor is even more surprising when you learn that an early role model was the anything-but-subtle Bette Midler.
“I checked her album out of the Gillespie Public Library for about two years straight,” she says, laughing, about growing up in a small Illinois town. “How they got a copy of it, I’ll never know!”
Klaus was opened up to many different musical genres through Midler’s tunes.
“The thing about Bette is that she was really a variety artist,” Klaus says. “She did everything. She exposed me to blues and older pop music and swing and all that stuff. She did torch songs and ballads and Benny Goodman numbers. It was a huge education for me.”
Digging deeper, Klaus peeled back the layers of the Midler oeuvre and discovered the artists who originated those songs.
“It became a research project,” she says.
There was a joy in that discovery process that continues today and prompted the evening of Lee tunes.
“When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate Peggy that much,” Klaus says. “I’d go back to the original artists like Lil Green, who wrote ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ and Little Willie John singing ‘Fever’ because I think I liked the artists who were a little more hot. As I get older, I appreciate the coolness of someone like Peggy or Anita O’Day more and more.”
For much of the public, the distilled image of Lee is caftan-clad, with a platinum pageboy cut framing large sunglasses and almost no movement, save for the rhythmic snapping of one pair of fingers.
“If you go back further,” Klaus says, “and listen to the Benny Goodman recordings in the ’40s or, what are now my favorites, the recordings she made in the ’50s and early ’60s, she was incredible.”
Like Lee, Klaus was frontman for a big band early in her career. It was fun, but today she enjoys the intimacy of a more focused presentation.
“My favorite thing now is to sit myself down if front of someone and experience some real communication through music,” Klaus says. “When that happens, all the superfluous stuff just fades away.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday-Tuesday
Contact: (800) 380-3095, www.therrazzroom.com