Will's New York Nite Life

Will's New York Nite Life

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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Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Posted Sep 13, 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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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

Posted Sep 1, 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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Melissa Errico & Richard Troxell in KISS ME, KATE!

Melissa Errico & Richard Troxell in KISS ME, KATE!

Posted Aug 15, 2017

In 1948, Kiss Me Kate was welcomed as a return to form for the genius that was Cole Porter. The great songwriter had not enjoyed a major hit on Broadway for nearly a decade, and, on top of which, he now had to contend with the spanking-new form of book-driven integrated musical theater pioneered by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Inspired by Shakespeare’s sexiest comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, and an brilliant book by Broadway veterans Samuel and Bella Spewack, Porter came up with his most durable and most frequently-revived show, winning the first-ever Tony award in the process. Porter’s words and music ingeniously tell two stories at once, a backstage tale of egocentric actors and divas interacting with gangsters and gamblers as they attempt to stage an all-singing, all-dancing version of Shakespeare’s classic comedy of 1592. This al fresco concert production takes the Bard’s notion of a “troop of strolling players” very literally, offering just the essentials, starting with a magnificent pair of leads, Melissa Errico and Metropolitan Opera baritone Richard Troxell, who were so effective in the Encores! production of Do I Hear a Waltz, heading a cast of 14. Even if you don’t live in Long Island, it would be well worth riding the Hamptons Jitney to the ends of the earth down Highway 27 to hear Ms. Errico’s lilting soprano on “So In Love” and Mr. Troxell tell us of the “The Life that Late I Led.” Wunderbar!

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Michael Feinstein, SHOWSTOPPERS

Michael Feinstein, SHOWSTOPPERS

Posted Aug 15, 2017

In his summer offering at the club that bears his name, Michael Feinstein has built his own solo show around the notion of Broadway showstoppers. In doing so, however, he proves that it doesn’t necessarily take a loud and brassy eleven o’clock production number with 5,000 dancers to stop a show - often the desired effect can be achieved with a song that’s intimate and personal, like “Losing My Mind” (from Sondheim’s Follies), which he delivers in an especially moving solo reading, accompanied only by his own piano. (Otherwise, the ace rhythm section of Tedd Firth, musical director and piano, Phil Palumbo, bass, and Mark McLean, drums, is on hand.) Sometimes a show can also be stopped with a comedy number that’s almost an olympic feat of tongue twisting and timing, as Mr. Feinstein shows with Ira Gershwin’s “Tchaikovsky” and all five choruses of Cole Porter’s “Can Can.” But in general, the most moving showstoppers are the most intensely emotional moments, as on Billy Goldenberg’s “Fifty Percent,” and, in a very different way on Mr. Feinstein’s very touching solo tribute to the late Barbara Cook on “Goodnight My Someone.” There are enough showstoppers in this 70-minute show to last an entire season on Broadway.

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A. J. Lambert at 54 Below

A. J. Lambert at 54 Below

Posted Aug 12, 2017

What most people know about Angela Jennifer (aka “A. J.”) Lambert is her royal lineage: her parents were pop icon Nancy Sinatra and celebrated choreographer Hugh Lambert, and her grandfather was the legendary Frank Sinatra. What you might not know is that this esteemed representative of the Third Generation of the Sinatra Dynasty is an accomplished singer-songwriter and a veteran performer as well. For her Feinstein’s debut, Ms. Lambert will take us through all sixteen songs in what just might be Sinatra Senior’s most significant work, the 1955 In the Wee Small Hours, which is also a mighty contender for the greatest jazz-pop-standards album ever made by anyone. As shown in a recent youTube video of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” (click here), Ms. Lambert has her own take on the material while also incorporating her grandfather’s classic interpretation. Worth seeing, says I.

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Cole Porter on the East Side

Cole Porter on the East Side

Posted Aug 5, 2017

Cole Porter on the East Side

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Jerry's Girls - Musicals in Mufti - The York Theater

Jerry's Girls - Musicals in Mufti - The York Theater

Posted Aug 1, 2017

In Hello, Dolly, which has taken New York by storm all over again 50 years after the original production, leading man Horace Vandergelder is described as “half a millionaire.” Songwriter and Broadway guru Jerry Herman has made considerably more than half a million dollars from his many hits. But in spite of his overwhelming commercial success, he’s never gotten quite the intellectual acclaim he deserves - which can only be because his shows are fun and upbeat musical comedies, rather than dark brooding musical dramas like those of his contemporary, Stephen Sondheim. But, don’t mistake comedy for dispensable frivolity - Mr. Herman’s words and music are just as substantial as those of anyone who has ever written for the modern musical theater, from Rodgers & Hammerstein on sideways. Jerry Herman is perhaps best known as a composer of material for name-above-the-title Broadway divas, so it makes sense that the best known retrospective of his work should be geared for three first rate female performers: Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Stephanie Umoh, and our favorite singer-comedienne-impressionist, Christine Pedi. First produced in 1981 (and now expanded to include songs from later shows), this two act revue features the highlights from over the whole course of his remarkable, six-decade career, including the expected blockbusters, Dolly, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles and such lesser-known but eminently worthy works such as Milk and Honey, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, and The Grand Tour. If there’s any one production that can best substantiate Mr. Herman’s claim, in one of his lyrics, that “there’s no tune like a show tune in 2/4,” this is it.

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