An intimate evening with the ‘Velvet Teddy Bear’ 

"My parents were teachers, and you have a red pen — I must be making an F,” Ruben Studdard told a woman sitting in the front row Wednesday on the opening night of his five-day engagement at San Francisco’s intimate Rrazz Room.

The second “American Idol” winner proceeded to break into a heavy-duty blues number, aimed right at the “red-pen lady,” an arts writer who, in fact, would give the singer and his jazzy trio a hearty passing grade.

Studdard, who came to fame singing R&B, played a 90-minute, up-close-and-personal set that leaned heavily toward jazz.

Each of his musicians — pianist Coleman Woodson, drummer David Smith and bassist Timothy Paton (who was introduced with one name, “Azaria”) — had a solo in the spotlight and performed an instrumental, “All the Things You Are.”

He told the audience, “All of these songs aren’t mine, but I love them just the same,” and in a jazz and standards mood, crooned “When I Fall in Love” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a tune he said he learned on trumpet in the seventh grade.

Looking natty in a well-tailored suit and often wiping his brow with a black handkerchief, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” was anything but shy and retiring, joking a lot and teasing audience members — egging them on about his home state of Alabama and talking Raiders and 49ers football.

He said his goal was to be as great as George Gershwin after singing a soulful version of “Summertime.”

Studdard did only one of his own songs, “Make Ya Feel Beautiful,” an R&B number by Ne-Yo that started smoothly and rocked in the end. Pianist Woodson moved from the grand piano to the electric keyboard.

“Cruisin,’” a song performed by his Motown-loving mother, received a groovin’ treatment, while David Foster’s “Mornin’,” made popular by Al Jarreau, brought the half-filled midweek house down.

Things slowed down with what Studdard called an “eclectic” song choice, Bryan Adams’ power ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”

He wound down with a signature tune, Leon Russell’s “Superstar,” accompanied simply by Woodson on piano. “If you aren’t satisfied, I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

But there was no room for negativity. Studdard left his listeners fulfilled in the first of what promises to be a smashing weekend of shows.

Ruben Studdard

Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $40 to $45
Contact: (415) 394-1189, (800) 380-3095,

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Leslie Katz

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