One of my earliest musical memories is trying to imitate the poised velvet purr of Lou Rawls singing "Three O'Clock in the Morning." While my squeaky voice couldn't plumb the depths of Rawls' pillowy baritone, I remained undeterred, playing that scratchy 45 endlessly and cawing along as only a four-year-old can.

Later, I became a fervent viewer of the United Negro College Fund telethon ("A mind is a terrible thing to waste"), avidly waiting for Rawls, the telethon's perennial host, to sing that epitome of Vegas R&B, "Groovy People." At once soulful and glitzy, Rawls would sometimes cram "groovy" five, six, seven, or more times into the tune's chorus, suspending time with his usual agile phrasing and crystalline diction.

Rawls' career has spanned gospel, R&B, pop, jazz, and disco. Unlike most other singers, who tend to favor one style and falter or fail in another, Rawls has a knack for making almost any song his own. My favorite is his rendition of "Girl from Ipanema" on the old Capitol LP Lou Rawls Live!, which includes off-mic gospel shouting and an unforgettable tongue-twisting monologue that foreshadows the widespread rapping on records by a solid decade.

In the 1970s, Rawls enjoyed hits with the classic "Natural Man" and Gamble and Huff's sophisticated symphonic proto-disco production of "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)." In recent years, Lou Rawls has returned to his jazz roots with an undiminished vocal prowess. Go hear this last of a bygone breed, a singer not only comfortable singing his hits, but a master of standards too. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

Lou Rawls sings Thurs-Sat July 10-12 at 8 and 10 pm, Sun July 13 at 6:30 and 8:30 pm (Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729), $28.50/$30.50.