Welcomed by Todd Barkan, Program Director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Eric Comstock and his trio gently mambo us into “You Were There.” England Swings is to be an evening interpreting the music of Noel Coward in jazz or jazzy renditions. The show is original. Coward’s work is rarely performed in the genre tonight’s artists will present. “Jazz musicians never cover a song, they personalize it,” our host comments.
First up, Daryl Sherman (above), her breathy, girlish voice and playful piano perform “Chase Me Charlie.” A musical conversation ensues with Harry Allen’s affectation free saxophone. It’s as if Sherman were the tabby and Allen the Tom as they tease, circle, jump and brush up against one another. Later in the program, Sherman sings and plays a delicate, reflective version of “Never Again” which, though musically off melody, is faithful to the lyric with every note and simply lovely.
And Allen (above) solos with a deft “Mad About the Boy” through which he manages, with long alto lines, to sound both mournful and thrilled at the same time. “Who was the boy in question—Leslie Howard? Douglas Fairbanks? We’ll never know,” interjects Comstock.
Guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli (above) whom Sherman identifies as her “very own Django” (alluding to Django Reinhart), joins the band for a pretty, if not at all gypsy-like “Zigeuner.” Besides playing on most numbers, Pizzarelli offers a feather light solo of “Someday I’ll Find You.” Like a line drawing by Matisse, musicianship communicates the essence. Comstock tells us there’s a 10 minute! Sonny Rollins version of the song.
Billy Stritch’s “Twentieth Century Blues” gets down for a foxtrot with verve. “Hey! Hey” he sings beckoning the shadows in Coward’s lyric. “Poor Little Rich Girl” follows up tempo. This could be a tap number. Heads bob. In both, Stritch breaks for verses without the band, delivering the balladic goods. This entertainer always seems to make it look easy. Here’s a great example of jazzy, not jazz. Works fine for me.
With a preface about Coward’s highly unexpected and successful run as a cabaret performer in Las Vegas- “…for that kind of money, they can throw bottles,” he apparently quipped—Comstock brings on Barbara Fasano (photo at top) to sing a couple of the master’s later efforts. The rarely heard “Something Very Strange” is the expression of a shipboard social director surprised by a romance of her own. Fasano’s clear, confident vocals inhabit the character’s pleasure and puzzlement.
Fasano’s “Matelot” begins beautifully acapella before Comstock comes in with dark, understated piano accompaniment. Coward would’ve approved. When the band joins, their presence is brush light (there’s a kiss of cymbal). Even as music grows with the emotion of the lyric, it never quickens or overwhelms. The performance is sad and moving, its last notes send a shiver.
Andy Bey (left), famous for his four-note baritone octave, sings “If Love Were All.” Bey gives us unabashed heart, replete with a crooner’s scat. Unfortunately, the musical break is blithe and bouncy in direct opposition to the song’s intention. We then circle back to Bey who finishes in the tune’s original tempo, with real feeling. I have the same issue with “Sail Away.” A brisk, happy arrangement, resonant vocals, and a well crafted sax solo are so opposite to specific lyrical truth, I find myself closing off.
Eric Comstock not only leads us through the evening with winning parentheses of anecdote and history, he performs other jazzy, not jazz numbers. For my money, his best are two rarely heard: “The Dream is Over” and “The Party’s Over Now.”The latter is a perfect way to end, exemplary of wistful, jaded feelings the writer articulated like few others: The thrill has gone/To linger on/Would spoil it anyhow;/Let’s creep away/From the day,/For the party’s over now. Comstock’s regard for Coward imbues his selections with lilting sincerity.
Accompanying Andy Bey’s affecting “I’ll See you Again,” wonderful verse and all, creates an epilogue.
Photo credit: Frank Stewart/JALC
Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents
England Swings: Noel Coward in Jazz
Part of Noel Coward in New York 2012
Eric Comstock (photo, left) Host, Piano, Vocals
Daryl Sherman- Piano, Vocals
Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola
Monday June 18, 2012