Just let me look at you/Don’t talk, don’t break the spell… teases Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Artistic Director/vocalist KT Sullivan, settling her gaze on familiar audience faces. Tonight’s honoree is one of her favorite composers. When not introducing or performing, Sullivan sits on the sidelines beaming like a mother hen. This beautifully produced salute features a variety of veteran and freshly honed talent, beloved and lesser known material. An unqualified hit. Highlights:
New to me, Tim Connell sings one of the most convincing, tender renditions of “Just the Way You Look Tonight” I’ve heard. Clearly an actor, he submits the kind of finely gauged, musically pearly sensibility that would make any woman’s knees buckle. “The Folks That Live On The Hill” arrives in watercolor delicacy by way of Stearns Matthews, also at the piano. Renee Katz’s tremulous, “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” persuasively pleads without going over the line. Lovely arrangement/piano by John Cook.
KT Sullivan’s tandem “Bungalow in Quogue” and “When It’s Nesting Time in Flatbush” palpably tickle: Let’s build a little bungalow in Quogue/In Yaphank or in Hicksville or Patchogue./Where we can sniff the scented breeze,/And pluck tomatoes from the trees…suggests the first. When it’s nesting time in Flatbush,/We will take a little flat,/With welcome on the mat/Where there’s room to swing a cat…muses the second as Sullivan daintily sidesteps across the stage.
“I heard that Quogue is actually the word for ‘clam’ in the Algonquin language,” she quips. “I wonder where Flatbush comes from – must be Dutch.” Effervescence is followed by a gossamer “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”
Roger Schmeltzer’s “I Won’t Dance (don’t ask me)” bubbles with wry personality. Phrasing is excellent. The same can be said for Minda Larsen’s very different material, “Bill,” emotionally convincing from the get-go. A trio of numbers, from blues to boogie, is presented by Leanne Borghesi who Sullivan calls “a force of nature.” The artist’s rich, open-throated vocal employs parlando and melody with equal ability; gestures range from ladylike implication to red hot mama.
Eloquent restraint is applied by Natalie Douglas whose well known belt can raise rafters. “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” emerges awash in poignancy. When he goes awaeee/That’s a rainy daeee…she sings. No fuss, just the truth. “Old Man River” is also beautifully understated, robust without becoming hysterical. Grace and gravitas.
Danny Bacher’s gently swingy “I’m Old Fashioned” gets to the song’s essence with style. The artist then joins Alexis Cole (vocal/piano) for an adroitly arranged interpretation of “Yesterdays.” Cole’s original phrasing and Bacher’s instrumental embroidery work splendidly together. Each then scats while the other sings. The duo should create a show. Cole and Bacher also render a savory “All the Things You Are” with Steve Doyle’s bass as able plumb line. Mutual appreciation reigns.
Also featuring: Joanne Tatham’s jazzy, fresh-sounding “The Song is You”; Jeff Macauley’s earnest “You’re Devastating”; two from Raissa Katona Bennett’s own Kern show including a fine, thoughtful “Remind Me”; David LaMarr’s reaching brio; a heady sampling from Lauren Stanford’s Helen Morgan Show; Those Girls: Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack, Wendy Russell in a lively, harmonized, Steven Ray Watkins medley making Kern sound utterly contemporary…
Eugene Ebner, a soaring tenor that would give Nelson Eddy a run for his money; Anais Reno’s round-edged alto easing into jazz like a reed playing with the breeze on “Look for The Silver Lining” (this year’s winner of the second annual Adela and Larry Elow American Songbook Competition); Christina Jiminez (last year’s winner) rambunctiously declaiming “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” ain’t ever what a girl supposes; a sophisticated “Nobody Else But Me” from Alex Leonard, also at deft piano.
As ever, Jon Weber’s marvelous playing and stylistic surprises appreciably contribute as does Steve Doyle’s equally reliable skill.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto Opening: Jon Weber and KT Sullivan
The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents All the Things You Are-The Music of Jerome Kern
Host-KT Sullivan, Artistic Director, The Mabel Mercer Foundation MD/Piano-Jon Weber; Bass- Steve Doyle Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
154 West 57th Street
May 21, 2019