Swing Detonates on 51st Street


The diminutive powerhouse, Terese Genecco, and Her Little Big Band “kick it” from Broadway clear across the Hudson, creating the kind of big, brassy, expansive swing that flourished in the forties and fifties. Eight terrific musicians and their vocalist leader, commandeer the Iridium stage for over two hours of what genuinely feels like a party. The salty Genecco kids her collaborators with warmth and familiarity reminiscent of The Rat Pack. She’s clearly where she belongs up there.

Throughout last night’s love fest, a widely grinning audience of lucky first-timers (myself) and seasoned admirers including Billy Stritch, Johnny Rodgers,* and Phoebe Legere tapped feet, bobbed heads and swayed through an evening including pop standards such as `A Lot of Livin’ to Do (Charles Adams/Lee Strouse), Tonight You Belong to Me (Billy Rose/Lee David), Come Rain or Come Shine (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer), a song I’d’ve loved to hear with only bongos and base as it began, instead of the “thunderstorm” it became, and Something’s Gotta Give (Johnny Mercer) abetted by the able Kenny Lavender on trumpet. A little more differentiation in the arrangements would improve the set. “Go big or go home,” Genecco beams, explaining her credo, “Two drink minimum, two ballad maximum.”

Tributes to Sammy Davis Jr. (style) included Anyplace I hang My Hat Is Home (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) supported by the very cool saxophone of Scott Kreitzer and a medley of songs from West Side Story (Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein) like one Davis sang at the Copacabana after his run in Golden Boy. Genecco’s personalized phrasing shone in the former, her range was showcased during the latter. The musical’s songs were performed a capella, accompanied only by Mayra Casales on bongos—pure synergy.

Guest artist and Broadway denizen, Karen Mason (Momma Mia, Sunset Boulevard, Hairspray…) opened with an effervescent, Get Happy (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler), followed by Mr. Monotony (Irving Berlin) which she performed in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. “Sixty-two dancers and me.” Mason slides between keys with an authority few possess. She can make a note into a double helix and come out again without apparent struggle. Here she tiptoes out with a lovely mute trumpet on her tail. People (Jule Stein/Bob Merrill), Somewhere (Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein)—splendid with just bassist Tom Hubbard despite vocal thinness in the higher register. The Impossible Dream (Joe Darion/Mitch Leigh) and All That Jazz (John Kander/Fred Ebb) rounded out her set- Mason’s got a swell growl. The ladies did an amiable duet of The Look of Love (Burt Bacharach/Hal David) with Genecco on piano, and Mason took her leave.

Genecco’s set ended with Unchain My Heart (Bobby Sharp) made famous by Ray Charles in the sixties. The Little Big Band’s rousing  R&B version rocked the house. Pianist and arranger Barry Levitt “the maestro comes out once a month to play for me” could’ve accompanied Jerry Lee Lewis as easily as Mel Torme. It was a pleasure to sit where we could see his hands.

This is one talented firecracker. She’s likeable, a fine musician (an alto belter) with a band of fine musicians, and infectious in her zeal. A sound like The Little Big Band is unusual these days; something enjoyably old-school. Genecco and her comrades are a remedy for what ails you. It’s no wonder this is “the longest running nightclub act on Broadway.”

*Billy Stritch, perhaps best known for his work with Liza Minnelli, and a strong performer in his own right, stepped up prepared, handed out charts and delivered a rendition of Teach Me Tonight (Sammy Cahn/Gene De Paul) with assurance and pizzazz down to his plaid sneakers.

Johnny Rodgers also invited up, sang what appeared to be an improvised version of Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek by directing when each musician should ease in…beginning with drums. “Bat me,” requested the young hipster asking the audience for finger snaps. It was great. Catch him at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola on December 11th. I know I will.


CDs: Drunk With Love: A Tribute to Frances Faye—MAC Award for Best Recording 2008

If I Was A Boy 2010 www.cdbaby.com

Other members of The Little Big Band:
Joe Alba- Drums
Sean Harkness- Guitar
Mark Miller- Trombone

Terese Genesco and Her Little Big Band
The Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway at 51st Street
The last Tuesday of every month
Next: 11/30; 12/28- with different guest stars

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