I Love a Piano: Celebrating the Great Tradition of the Singing Piano

The 25th Annual Cabaret Convention-Opening Night

Jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein is a curious choice to host an evening saluting vocalists who accompany themselves on piano. The uber-wry Weinstein makes the most of his spotlight as well as adding iconoclastic skill to several accompaniments and a lovely solo on acoustic mandolin. There’s really no one like him. It works. Highpoints of the evening include:

Straight-backed and ever stylish, the incomparable Barbara Carroll opens this evening with the eminent Jay Leonhart on bass. Perhaps our most painterly, vision-conjuring pianist, Carroll presents as meditative and melancholy a “Lonely Town” as one can “envision,” adding strains of Gershwin to Leonard Bernstein’s haunting melody. “Who Cares?” comes next, talk/sung with just the right buoyant phrasing and a bit of well earned grit. Weinstein takes over the chorus with a skibble, dip, kick and twirl of playful instrumental. The clarity of Barbara Carroll’s playing is matched only by that of her invention.

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In his inimitable, unexpected fashion, Mark Nadler offers a complete theater scenario involving a bar pianist and two customers. The piece features “Bobo’s” (Kander and Ebb), “Music Maestro, Please” ( Allie Wrubel/Herb Magidson),”Drinking Again” (Johnny Mercer/Doris Taube) and “I Never Talk to Strangers (Tom Waites.) Though the woman’s voice might be more successful as Bacall rather than whispered Boop, the melding of music and dramatics is highly imaginative, well crafted, and persuasively played.

Alexis Cole who by all rights should be considerably more famous, performs a simply exquisite Shirley Horn Tribute. Like the preface to a mistral, Cole’s smooth, sultry voice put us immediately elsewhere with her version of “Estate.” Eyes closed, head puppeted by undulating rhythm, she epitomizes less is more; a siren leading us on through layers of beading and translucent chiffon. Kenny Hassler’s superb percussion seems lighter than what’s possible to make sound. (Saadi Zain-bass)

It turns out Steven Litvak, who composed the music and co-write the lyrics for the also-in-my-opinion-terrific, Tony award-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, is a wonderful performer. Sings well, acts well, plays well. In addition to a maddeningly clever number from the show, Litvak enacts the hysterical “Bagel Maker to the Czars” a la Tom Lehrer and/or Sylvia Fine Kaye. His timing is perfect, his inflection sublime, the payoff a scream.

ALEX AND STEVE

Who else but Steve Ross could raise the tone of the entire evening looking utterly appropriate in tails? Ross’s “Piaf Medley,” prefaced by a smidgen of Cole Porter, is a perfect example of what the Portuguese call saudade=nostalgia for something one hasn’t experienced. The lushly rendered, beautifully sequenced collection of songs sweeps one away to the streets and music halls of France, from hurdy-gurdy to anthem, during a time when “a little sparrow” beat the odds and everyone was a great deal more innocent. Immensely moving.

Loston Harris, in situ as Bemelman’s Bar (The Carlyle Hotel), plays and sings stylish interpretations of “How About You” and “I’m Old Fashioned,” the latter to rhythmic, thrum, thrum bass. More a traditional jazzman than Bobby Short, the artist has something of the icon’s élan and selected insouciance. His voice can be balm. (Ian Henderson-saxophone, Gian Luca Renzi-bass)

Still fresh-faced, the incredibly multi-faceted Liam Forde was presented this year’s Julie Wilson Award (made possible by Linda and Peter Hanson) by Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, KT Sullivan.

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Much too much of a good thing, this unedited show ran over three and a half hours. Many of us watched exhausted patrons peel away during Act II. With a median audience age of 70 (also a cabaret issue), and, in some cases, second shows to attend,  length should be taken into more prudent consideration.

Also Featuring: Tony DeSare, Nellie McKay, Charles Cochran (Saadi Zain–bass), Eric Yves Garcia (Jon Weber-piano, Ritt Henn-bass, Peter Calo-guitar), Matt Baker, Devin Bing, Daryl Sherman, Alex Leonard, Jason Robert Brown, Liam Forde (Elizabeth Ann Berg, Sarah Drake, Jeremy Greenbaum-backup)

Photos:
Opening by Maryann Lopinto: Aaron Weinstein & Liam Forde with Back-up Singers: Elizabeth Ann Berg, Sarah Drake, and Jeremy Greenbaum.
2. Barbara Carroll & Jay Leonhard; Mark Nadler by Stephen Sorokoff
3. Alexis Cole; Steven Litvak by Stephen Sorokoff
4. Steve Ross by Maryann Lopinto; Loston Harris by Stephen Sorokoff

The 25th Annual Cabaret Convention
I Love a Piano: Celebrating the Great Tradition of the Singing Piano
Hosted by Violinist (and deadpan comedian) Aaron Weinstein
The Mabel Mercer Foundation
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
The Time Warner Center/Columbus Circle
October 20, 2014

COMING UP:
Wednesday Night: Something Sort of Grandish: The Music of Burton Lane/ The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
Thursday Night: Come On And Hear: The Songs of Irving Berlin
Friday Night- At The Cutting Room: Kabarett With a K

About Alix Cohen (764 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.