The Two of Clubs
Opening night at the Café Carlyle with last year's Nightlife Award winners John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey brought out a bevy of big stars. Wherever you looked, there they were. Barbara Cook, Tovah Feldshuh, Christine Ebersole, Regis & Joy Philbin, John Bucchino, Alice Playten, Phoebe Snow, Brooks Ashmanskas and others were there to see, arguably, the hottest duet team currently on the nightclub circuit.
When jazz/cabaret star John Pizzarelli originally began collaborating on stage with his theater star wife Jessica Molaskey, it was clear that Pizzarelli's influence was the greater. Molaskey has since transformed into a jazz singer who has risen to become a jazz artist of considerable stature in her own right. In their brand new show together that opened earlier this week at the Café Carlyle (running through November 1st) it was fascinating to see that in a subtle but unmistakable way, Molaskey's theatrical influence has begun to appear in Pizzarelli's work. The result is a more balanced, richer collaboration that has culminated in their most sophisticated and fully entertaining show to date.
In the lightest and brightest of ways, their show is largely a romantic series of songs that manage to both reveal their palpable love for each other as well as reflect their deeply felt relationship through the depth of their musical collaboration. The evening begins with Molaskey winsomely singing the Rodgers & Hart classic "I Didn't Know What Time it Was" (until I met you) and then Pizzarelli replies with the words and music of Comden & Green & Styne when he sings "Just in Time" ("I found you just in time"). The theme continues in different styles through the next several songs until their inspired, playful intertwining of "I Want to Be Happy" and "Sometimes I'm Happy" (Youmans/Caesar). The comic quality of this piece resonates with their entertaining, wisecracking banter.
It is, in fact, their freewheeling banter, peppered throughout their act, that adds immeasurably to the fun of the evening. They are truly hilarious together, and part of the fun is that they clearly often catch each other by surprise with a quip or a comeback. One senses that the show is only very loosely scripted and after that, it's every spouse for him/herself. We are the beneficiaries of their one-ups-manship.
An unparalleled jazz guitarist (excepting, of course, his legendary father, Bucky Pizzarelli), John Pizzarelli is sensational performing "Johnny One Note," poking great fun at the song with his anything but one note guitar riffs. Meanwhile, Jessica Molaskey brings her theatrical training to bear on slow jazz ballads, giving them meaning and texture no other jazz singer can touch. Witness her, for instance, on "I'm Just Wild About Harry."
The two of them were delightful introducing a new song they wrote together, "Hiding in Plain Sight." Though they said they were inspired to write their song by the Harburg/Gershwin tune "Let's Take A Walk Around The Block," it was also reminiscent of "Rhode Island Has You by Dietz and Schwartz. But they did something extraordinary in their pairing of "You Have to be Carefully Taught" (Rodgers & Hammerstein from South Pacific) and "Children Will Listen" (Sondheim from Into the Woods). Smart, sophisticated and insightful, the juxtaposition of the two songs and their delicate arrangement and performance was simply piercing. Theatrical rather than jazz-oriented, it was this moment in the show that suggested Jessica Molaskey's influence on their collaboration has gracefully raised the stakes and that they were now fully and truly equal partners on stage.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey at the Café Carlyle through November 1. For performance schedule and more information, visit www.thecarlyle.com.
Jack Jones: half a century of singing
Jack Jones celebrates fifty years in show business this year with his new act at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel (through September 20th). But you would never guess he's been singing for fifty years, by the sound of his youthful, rangy, supple voice. It's the hallmark of his show, in fact, that time after time he either holds notes ad infinitum or hits impossible high notes with force and power. And holds those notes! In other words, he sings like he's thirty years old but with the perception and wisdom of having lived a life.
And what a life. He begins his act with a video clip (two large monitors on either end of the Oak Room allow customers to see everything) that shows him in his youth working with the likes of Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and, of course, his father, Allan Jones. Cleverly, the clips end with Ed Sullivan calling out, "Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Jones!" And out Mr. Jones comes onto the Oak Room stage and thus begins a show so generous in its time and music that we're more inclined to call it an intimate full length concert than a cabaret act. Though we didn't time it, it's fair to say the show is definitely more than ninety minutes. But every minute is packed with great music, wonderful stories and the presence of a charismatic star that knows how to work the room so that everyone feels included.
Most cabaret shows feature about a dozen songs. The night we were therewhich was also the night that the star-studded audience included Julius LaRosa, Marilyn Maye, and Michael FeinsteinJack Jones performed more than twenty numbers, and not a single medley, bless his heart. After the video clips, he began unexpectedlyand smartlywith "A Song For You," a gorgeous ballad that beautifully played off the sentiment he had earned from the video.
His ace in the hole throughout the evening was his ability to take a song and slow it down, taking the time to fully express the lyric content and, at the same time, provide vocal dramatics. The best example of this is his rendition of "God Only Knows" which is better known as a Beach Boys number. By the same token, he can jet ski through a song like "She Loves Me" or "Just One of Those Things" and show off his flash.
His show is loaded with vocal highlights of such classic songs as "All or Nothing at All," "What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?" and "Our Love is Here to Stay." He does tributes to Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, and performs some of his own hit songs, including "Lollipops and Roses" and "Wives and Lovers." And he tells great stories. Hopefully, throughout his run he'll continue to tell the backstage tale of the famous "Ed Sullivan joke."
He sums up the show, and your wonderful evening spent with him, by singing "Here's to Life" while a more extended version of the video clips run again, this time without sound. The life he's singing about is his own. It's a wonderful, touching finale. Happy 50th anniversary, Mr. Jones.
Jack Jones at The Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel through September 20. For more information, visit The Oak Room Cabaret website.