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Jazz Foundation of America - 26th Annual Jazz Loft Party

Jazz Foundation of America - 26th Annual Jazz Loft Party

Posted Oct 8, 2017

For 26 years, this is has been a great, fun party, a most worthy celebration held in honor of an even more worthy cause, the only Foundation that is, as it’s motto reads, “saving jazz, one musician at a time.” Actually, they save a great many more than that at once, and, as you are well aware, what with the devastation in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, the need is greater than ever. Mounted by Wendy Oxenhorn, an angel in a mermaid dress who was rightfully named as the jazz advocate of the year by the NEA in 2016, the evening long marathon event artfully intermingles hardcore jazz instrumentalists and singers along with soul and blues artists. The party setting - with copious amounts of food and drink (and probably all your friends as well) everywhere you turn, makes this one of the most copacetic ways to enjoy your favorite music. This year, the top headliners are Gladys Knight, Nona Hendryx, Steve Jordan, and the host is actor Danny Glover. Every year I go, and every year I inevitably run into lots of people that I never see anywhere else; apparently they only attend one jazz event per year. I’d like to encourage them to go to more than that, however, if they are going to pick just one, it’s hard to fault their judgement for selecting this one.

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Tony Bennett @ Radio City Music Hall

Tony Bennett @ Radio City Music Hall

Posted Oct 6, 2017

It’s no secret that the greatest of living American popular singers is at an all-time high, and this is just about a year after celebrating his 90th birthday in 2016. Cheek to Cheek, his 2014 album of duets with Lady Gaga, was the biggest-selling album of his career thus far, while The Silver Lining, an all Jerome Kern set done in tandem with the brilliant pianist Bill Charlap, was the best purely jazz album he’s made since his classic collaborations with Bill Evans 40 years ago.  Whether sharing the stage with his cultural progeny or going it solo, Tony Bennett continues to show us all how it’s done - and proves over and over that life begins at 90. (As an added bonus, his talented daughter Antonia opens the show and duets with him on Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friend.”)

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Duncan Sheik @ The Cafe Carlyle

Duncan Sheik @ The Cafe Carlyle

Posted Oct 5, 2017

For those Broadway-centric attendees - and Carlyle regulars - the debut of Duncan Sheik at the Cafe Carlyle contains a lot of surprises. Most of us know him through the two shows of his that have thus far made it to Broadway, the Tony-winning Spring Awakening (2006) and American Psycho (2016). The first is about teen anguish (and German teen anguish at that), although it has many gentler moments; the second, well, it’s about American psychos, and uses some very challenging forms of avant-rock to tell its highly-disturbing story (the logo for the show was a set of headphones dripping with blood). However, in person in the intimate space of the Carlyle, much of Mr. Sheik’s music is unexpectedly romantic - and that applies both to his “singer-songwriter” material, those songs he wrote for his eight solo albums (thus far). “Circling” is a compelling, thoughtful ballad, even more so in person than on his latest album, the 2015 Legerdemain. Overall, he and his trio at the Carlyle (with Jason Hart, keyboards, and Doug Yowell, drums), create a lovely minimalist vibe throughout the evening, putting one in mind of film score composers like Carter Burwell. For Broadway buffs, the highlights were the songs like “Mama Who Bore Me,” from Spring Awakening, done as a duo with Kathryn Gallagher. Yet for a goodly portion of the crowd, the song that they came to hear was Mr. Sheik’s biggest pop hit, the 1996 “Barely Breathing,” which served as a perfect encore and closer.

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Laura Osnes: The World of Rodgers & Hammerstein

Laura Osnes: The World of Rodgers & Hammerstein

Posted Sep 27, 2017

For those who feel that the best part of Broadway is great singers doing great songs, Tony-nominated singer-actress Laura Osnes’s latest offering at the Carlyle is all the good stuff: one of the most engaging younger performers with one of the most outstanding voices on Broadway doing song after classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song. Partnering with accompanist and musical director Ted Sperling (who chimes in a bit himself, here and there), she starts very strong with a medley of three R&H waltzes: “Impossible” (from her award-winning leading role as Cinderella), “I Whistle a Happy Tune” (The King and I), “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music), and delivers them with such convention that you would love to hear the two of them sustain an entire hour of Richard Rodgers in three-quarter time - although Ms. Osnes is just as winning in 2/4 and 4/4. Continuing the idea of delivering the most essential parts of a classic show, Ms. Osnes has recruited an outstanding young baritone Ryan Silverman to join her in two classic R&H set pieces - two iconic falling-in-love sequences from Carousel (including “If I Loved You”) and South Pacific. He also delivers a full-blown version of the famous “Soliloquy” from Carousel, something not often heard in a supper club. Gloriously sung, this is musical theater at its most intimate - and at its most sublimely musical.

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Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim and Bernstein @ 54 Below

Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim and Bernstein @ 54 Below

Posted Sep 21, 2017

Maria Friedman is one of the rare singer-actresses that has become so universally respected as an interpreter of the great theater songs (both in full scale productions as well as her own one-woman shows) that she’s become one of the very few to “graduate,” as it were, to shaping the interpretations and performances of others, as a director. The works of Stephen Sondheim have long been a career focal point, which has led to her serve as director of the current highly-acclaimed (and hopefully Broadway-bound) production of Merrily We Roll Along. Her new cabaret show intermingles the Sondheim catalog with the equally iconic songs of his one-time collaborator Leonard Bernstein. As you’d expect, it returns repeatedly to that celebrated one-shot collaboration, West Side Story, but also unearths a few rarities along the way, like a Bernstein anti-war song called “So Pretty” and “Take Care of this House,” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a 1976 musical about the White House that somehow seems especially relevant today. In what first seems be a nervy move for a Londoner, she begins with an extended collage of Metrocentric songs by both composers, including “What More Do I Need” and the less frequently heard “Me and My Town,” and interprets them with such penetrating insight that you almost feel that she knows more about New York than those of us who live here do. Spoiler alert: her encore finale, “Gee, Officer Krupke” which she sings as a one-woman quartet of Jets (with the aid of multiple chapeaus and a judge’s wig) is a comic tour-de-force.

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The Fifth Annual Hot Jazz Festival
(@ The McKittrick Hotel)

The Fifth Annual Hot Jazz Festival (@ The McKittrick Hotel)

Posted Sep 21, 2017

Even at the first Hot Jazz Festival, way back in 2013, it was immediately clear that this not-yet-annual celebration was going to be one of the big events of the year, and something to look forward to. Every year since then, festival founder and producer Michael Katsobashvili has proved over and over that the hottest thing in jazz isn’t necessarily the newest, but, more often than you’d be expect, the genre of the music that most appeals to new generations, both as listeners (and dancers!) and creators, are the exuberant sounds that flourished in New Orleans, Chicago, and Harlem up through the 1920s and 1930s and earlier. For this edition, some of the mainstays are back, and they’ve grown in stature since the festival started - especially cofounder Bria Skonberg and the Hot Sardines, who are now signed to Sony and Universal Music, respectively. In addition to exuberant mainstays like the Grand Street Stompers, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso’s EarRegulars, clarinet Dennis Lichtman with Mona’s Hot Four, there are welcome newcomers like Felix Peikli, Joe Doubleday's Showtime Band with Kat Edmonson, and the brilliant french songstress Cyrille Aimee teaming with her countryman and modern day Djangologist, Stephane Wrembel. The varieties of this music are endless: I’m especially looking forward to shows celebrating unusual instruments: not only hot violin (with both Aaron Weinstein, Andy Stein), but jazz washboard (a French speciality, it turns out) and jazz theremin (masterminded by that multi-instrumental mad genius, Scott Robinson) and tributes to deserving jazz age giants like Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Annette Hanshaw (the latter by that overwhelmingly unique song stylist Tamar Korn).

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Dianna Agron @ Cafe Carlyle

Dianna Agron @ Cafe Carlyle

Posted Sep 20, 2017

Dianna Agron, making her debut at the Café Carlyle this week, may be the only headliner I’ve seen in a New York club who hasn’t yet been on Broadway but has nevertheless earned the right to call herself a “singer-actress” through her work on television, specifically the long-running, musically-driven series Glee. (Although her stylish black gown and cape seemed a little more like something from Game of Thrones.) Even though she’s new to doing solo shows (accompanied by guitarist Gill Landry) in small-ish rooms like the Carlyle, she already seems to have grasped the single most fundamental idea of what we (at least in New York) call “cabaret,” which is the idea of keeping everything intimate and establishing a direct connection with the crowd. Although she’s shown elsewhere that she can belt when she wants, she wisely sang most of her opening night in a low breathy whisper, like a post-millennial update of Julie London. She also knows that she can reach the crowd more easily with songs everybody knows, and to that end the program is a set of 1960s-centric standards (mostly associated with male performers) - the only significantly older song is “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and that, as we know, is also a 1960s pop hit. The voice is lovely and the guitar backing matches the mood, making both performers seem suitably vulnerable. Some songs are sung to the audience, like “Bang Bang” and “Harvest Moon,” while others are done with the audience, like “Dance Me to the End of Love” (I never had thought of Leonard Cohen’s music as suitable for a campfire-style sing-along) and “Dream a Little Dream.” Either way, this young woman has a commendable understanding of the medium, and I’m sure this won’t be her last appearance in a major midtown club.

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Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Fantastic Mr. Jelly Lord

Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Fantastic Mr. Jelly Lord

Updated Sep 14, 2017

Special guests include two of the most outstanding younger piano virtuosos of the contemporary era, Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner, and two even younger piano prodigies who are still ensconced at Juilliard, Micah Thomas and Joel Wenhardt.

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Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Updated Sep 14, 2017

At 93, singer, pianist, songwriter and raconteur Bob Dorough has led many lives: you might group him with Jon Hendricks, the late Oscar Brown, Jr., and his frequent collaborator Dave Frischberg as one of the few significant songwriters to write distinctly jazz-flavored words and music for jazz singers and musicians - most famously “Comin’ Home Baby” for Mel Torme, “I’ve Got Just About Everything” for Tony Bennett, and “I’m Hip” for Blossom Dearie.

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