Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs

Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss at The Oak Room

Tony DeSare
Tony DeSare
Photo: Bill Westmoreland
The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, more than any other of New York's famous big nightclubs, takes chances on up-and-coming young talent. Thanks to good taste and careful booking, the club is reaping great rewards from its willingness to forge links with future stars. One such star-in-the-making is Tony DeSare, who is making a big impact in the Oak Room right now through Saturday night. Looking like a less dangerous version of Montgomery Clift, this young and personable jazz singer/pianist is putting on a classy and career-making show even as his new CD Last First Kiss is topping the jazz charts. It also happens to be the name of his act.

Taking a hint from Michael Feinstein, who parlayed his early performances in the Oak Room to the stratosphere of cabaret [see below our review of Mr. Feinstein at Carnegie Hall], DeSare not only sits behind the piano to play and sing, but he also gets up and stands front and center to connect to the audience in a more traditional style. He's effective both ways, helped significantly when he stands by the presence of jazz elder statesman, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli who performs right next to him most memorably in a slow, delicate duet of "How Deep is the Ocean" (Irving Berlin) with Bucky playing and DeSare sweetly crooning. By the way, if you add up the probable ages of the young DeSare, his youthful drummer Brian Czach and the cherubic bass player Mike Lee, the years would not likely equal Bucky's age. The combination of youth and experience, however, is ultimately a comforting and valuable element in this impressive show.

DeSare is a jazzer who openly declares his affection for lyrics. It's not empty talk. He not only demonstrates his jazz chops as a pianist, but he delivers the words with a thoughtful empathy that convinces us that he understands exactly what he's singing about, not just in general terms but line by line. His patter sets the songs up with careful precision, giving him a clear and present opportunity to make them meaningful even as he makes them pretty. Most of his material is the tried and true work of the masters: George & Ira Gershwin, Jule Styne and Comden & Green, Bart Howard, Burton Lane & Yip Harburg. But the big surprise of his show is DeSare's own songs. He performs five of his own numbers, two of which he co-wrote with his whistling bass player Mike Lee, and four of them a very high percentage hold their own with the other famous songs he's singing. "How I Will Say I Love You" (with Mike Lee), "Let's Just Stay In" and "Lover's Lullaby" being particular standouts.

We had seen Tony DeSare in the mediocre Our Sinatra show several years ago and had not been especially impressed. We had seen him sing a song here and there in subsequent years and found him pleasant but not all that memorable. This was the first solo show of his we've seen. And now we're hooked.

The Life & Times of Diahann Carroll at Feinstein's at the Regency

The only reason to see Diahann Carroll at Feinstein's and lay out the big money would be the opportunity to see her live and in person because she really means something to you. You really don't want to go there with the idea that she's going to wow you with her voice or hold you spellbound with her stories; it just has to be your desire to be in the same room with a genuine, history-making star. And that she is. Diahann Carroll was the first woman of color to have her own TV show, "Julia." She starred on Broadway in House of Flowers and No Strings, winning a Tony Award for the latter.

Put simply: Diahann Carroll has been a notable player in the popular culture of the latter half of the 20th century. But that doesn't mean that her club act is worth seeing. A long tribute to Frank Sinatra? What's that about? Perhaps she didn't know what else to sing. Her voice is diminished from her heyday but she hasn't really compensated for it by singing with more acting acumen. We're glad we saw her but not really enough to recommend the same experience to someone else although you've still got your chance: she is appearing at Feinstein's through March 24th.

Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall

At the peak of his showmanship, Michael Feinstein is in his element when he walks across the stage of Carnegie Hall and starts to sing. He's in the best voice of his career, belting with clear, round notes that have rich timbre. He can also bring it down to something small and tender. In truth, except for his material, there isn't a huge difference between seeing him at Feinstein's at the Regency and on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

Feinstein was on the big stage on West 57th Street last Friday in a solo concert. He introduced the evening as one about romantic songs but plenty of his numbers were about broken hearts and love in vain. Be that as it may, he sang them well and with style. He joked easily and often with the audience; his manner was entirely informal as if he was at his namesake club tossing off jokes to fill an awkward moment.

Likeable, extraordinarily knowledgeable about the music he sings, and every bit the champion of the Great American Songbook, Feinstein's audience follows him everywhere. We're part of that audience. At what he does, there is nobody better. Carnegie Hall was a wonderful place to be that night

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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