The Two of Clubs
Though this column has not appeared for a stretch of time, we have nonetheless been out covering the nightlife and piling up plenty to say about cabaret acts hither and yon. On this go around we will give you the long and the short of it. We'll begin with a current report on Michel Legrand's historic jazz act at Birdland, then touch briefly on some of the more memorable acts we've seen over the last few months ...
He is Le Grand
Now that you've gotten used to special events happening almost exclusively on Monday nights, along comes something downright legendary that's been taking place every night except Mondays. Right now, through Sunday March 11th at Birdland, you can catch three-time Oscar and five-time Grammy winner Michel Legrand at the piano accompanied by jazz greats Ron Carter on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Legrand, the composer of such movie musicals as Yentl and such classic songs as "Windmills of Your Mind," is celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday by performing two shows per night at Birdland (8:30 pm and 11 pm) that are something far more than entertaining – they are essential. Witness exquisite musicianship in which jazz is tinged with emotion, delivered with stylish abandon, and ultimately touched by genius.
Your best bet is to try for the late shows; you've got a better chance of getting in at 11 pm. That's when we went, and saw an astonishing show in which Legrand played a widely varied selection of his music from "A Family Fugue" to "Papa Can You Hear Me?" and somehow turned most of them into jazz-infused star-turns.
Generous and welcoming, talented musicians were invited to perform with Legrand during the course of his set. At one point his three-piece band expanded to five with the temporary but exciting additions of Harry Allen on sax and Dominick Farinacci on trumpet. Birdland's permanent and premier house vocalist, Hilary Kole, was also invited to sing with the maestro for the first time when we were there. Singing "On My Way to You" without rehearsal, she sailed through it and afterward joyfully commented on what a remarkable accompanist Legrand turned out to be. In fact, he was remarkable at everything he did. Even scatting.
Cabaret in Brief
On the subject of Hilary Kole at Birdland, she performed a solo act not too long ago in which she demonstrated why she and not Jane Monheit (currently at the Café Carlyle) should be getting all the huzzahs from today's jazz critics. Taking nothing away from Monheit's great voice, she nonetheless is a washout when it comes to interpreting lyrics. And try as she might, this young lady cannot command the stage. Kole, on the other hand, has miles of presence and has come a long way as a jazz balladeer; there is an intensity about Kole that is real and present and she sings with a genuine need to be understood – and isn't that something you want from every singer?
Down at Helen's in Chelsea we witnessed Colm Reilly put on the best show of his career (so far). Singing songs associated with Roy Orbison, Reilly proved to be an exciting – even daring – singer. If his patter was too self-effacing, his performance of those wildly rangy numbers that Orbison used to sing was downright thrilling.
Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series has grown from its modest beginnings in the Kaplan Penthouse some five years ago into an entertainment juggernaut offering a massive and wide-ranging array of music in an attempt to redefine the very definition of its title. According to this popular series, the contemporary sounds of Laura Nyro's pop and the post-modern jazz of Fred Hersch all fall under the umbrella of The Great American Songbook. The series gets considerable help in its efforts by hiring some of the best American Songbook performers in town. In the Hersch show mentioned above, Jessica Molaskey and Michael Winther stood out with their ability to bring character and interpretive acumen to Hersch's work. Judy Kuhn, in a solo show devoted to Nyro was delicately effective. Anchoring such shows that purists might object to as outside the confines of the Great American Songbook, the series brought out big guns like its celebration of Marilyn & Alan Bergman's fifty years together as lyricists. A star-studded bill that included Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sandy Stewart, and Tony Bennett made it clear that the Great American Songbook continues to be alive and well.
Speaking of Sandy Stewart, singers could and should go to school on this woman's ability to interpret a lyric. We caught her show – with her jazz legend-in-the-making son, pianist Bill Charlap – at the Oak Room and it was a marvel to witness.
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