The last night of this year’s 28th annual New York Cabaret Convention matched quality talent and material with a smoothly run production hosted by Klea Blackhurst. Act I was devoted to Hoagy Carmichael, Act II to Richard Whiting.
Blackhurst and longtime comrade in arms, Billy Stritch, performed several lighthearted numbers, one frothy one with our host on ukulele. Among these, a sassy “Walk It Off” (Carmichael) and bubbly, full-versed “Ain’t We Got Fun?” (Whiting, from the Ethel Merman show Take a Chance) were particularly buoyant. These artists are symbiotic together, weighing in with talent, playfulness and polish. Stritch’s “Guilty” (by Whiting, “a devoted Catholic and Gus Kahn, a devout Jew,” the musician quips) was twinkle-eyed swell. (Saadi Zain-bass, Ray Marchica-drums)
Gregory Generet’s interpretation of Carmichael’s “Baltimore Oriole” seemed rooted in N’Orleans. His visceral baritone/basso sculpturally toyed with the song, stamping it his own. Freddie Hendrix’s superb trumpet dipped, dived, spun, wah-wahed and soared adding immeasurably. “If I could play trumpet like that – I would,” Blackhurst commented with appreciation.
Todd Murray, the uber-crooner, sang a palpably warm “Heart and Soul” (Carmichael) transforming a familiar ditty into a love song, then engagingly joined Alex Rybeck to play the version with which we all grew up. “Wherever there’s a party and three hands, you hear that song,” Blackhurst commented. The hall collectively grinned. Later, we’re treated to Whiting/Arnold/Kahn’s “A Day Away From Town” during which Murray strolls. A pleasure. This vocalist has just a bit of texture to otherwise smooth delivery, evoking frisson.
The first of two highlights in an evening filled with high spots, was the second performance on a Convention stage of now 16 year-old Joie Bianco.“When I was the next performer’s age, I was just hoping to marry Donny Osmond,” Blackhurst cracked, referring to her achievements. Utterly poised, Bianco sang a swing version of Carmichael’s usually country/western “Old Buttermilk Sky” with sweet nonchalance and a lovely rendition of his “Skylark” with preternatural awareness (and she studies with Marilyn Maye) of when to pull back and when to be expansive. (Jon Weber-piano)
Bianco was then undoubtedly the youngest performer ever to be presented with The 2017 Julie Wilson Award, graciously sponsored by Linda and Peter Hansen. Its text says, in part, that Joie was “born to sing and essential to hear.” It’s going to be fun watching her bloom.
The second highlight was an appearance by Chicago veteran Tammy McCann. “Up a Lazy River” (“Riva”) emerged like languid, rhythmic molasses, then morphed to mid-tempo, strut n’ scat (even her scat was rounded). A simply gorgeous version of the composer’s “Stardust” followed, floating on virtuoso strings. McCann showcased stunning control, impeccable phrasing and a tone in which one wants to wrap oneself. She has spirit and taste. Someone book this performer in New York! Both by Carmichael (Jon Weber-piano, Saadi Zain-bass; The Solar String Quartet: Leonor Falcon, Tomoko Omura, Allyson Claire, Brian Sanders)
Josephine Sanges favored us with Whiting’s “Breezin’ Along With a Breeze,” initially boppin’ in on Saadi Zain’s nifty bass. (Fine arrangement.) This requires a good enough voice to hold its own with ornamentation rather than support. Sanges’ vocals seem to trill at the edges. Jazz sensibility sounds organic. “When Did You Leave Heaven?” (opening with a deep sigh) was a slow dance made lush by obvious heart as much as performance talent. (John Cook-piano)
Debbi Whiting (Margaret’s daughter, Richard’s granddaughter) then presented Sanges with The Margaret Whiting Award made possible by My Ideal Music. “You’re a delight, you love to sing and you feel every word,” she told the artist. So true.
Josephine Sanges, Klea Blackhurst, Jason Martin with The Margaret Whiting Award
An understated “I Get Along Without You Very Well” (Carmichael) was made to sound like internal dialogue by Valerie Lemon’s thoughtful performance and warm vocal timbre. Arrangement caressed. (Alex Rybeck-piano) The lyrics to “She’s Funny That Way” were originally a poem Richard Whiting wrote to his wife, Eleanor. Neil Moret was asked by her to compose music. The song arrives sincere and unfussy via Carol Woods whose current show celebrates the composer. (Tex Arnold-Margaret Whiting’s Musical Director of over 25 years at the piano.)
We close with the company singing Whiting’s “Till We Meet Again” which sold 7 million copies of sheet music in 1918. Think about that. The sentimental number is lead by Stacy Sullivan and Todd Murray as its tender World War I couple: There’s a song in the land of the lily/Each sweetheart has heard with a sigh/Over high garden walls this sweet echo falls/As a soldier boy whispers goodbye…(Tex Arnold-piano, Saadi Zain-bass, Ray Marchica-drums)
Also featuring: A classy “Hooray for Hollywood” (Whiting) by the usually flashy Amra-Faye Wright and the artist’s chipper duet with Carol Woods, Matt Baker’s staccato piano styling, Eric Yves Garcia (better on vocal than piano tonight), Stacy Sullivan, whose voice shimmered, Shana Farr’s beautifully performed, operatic “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (Whiting) with western feel musical arrangement that seemed in opposition to vocal genre, and Kristoffer Lowe’s “The Nearness of You” (Carmichael) suffering the same issue – an elaborate violin-centric arrangement that fought with what might have been an expressive, tenor rendition.
This year the Convention included 81 performers and 36 vocalists over four days of wildly varied “cabaret.” See you next October.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Tammy McCann Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
Opening: Billy Stritch & Klea Blackhurst
The 28th New York Cabaret Convention presents
Too Marvelous for Words/Stardust: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael & Richard Whiting Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
October 19, 2017
Rose Hall at Time Warner Center