I have not heard Kevin Dozier live since seeing (and reviewing) his performance at the now defunct Metropolitan Room in April 2015. Last night Dozier performed at the Beach Café, a relative newcomer to the cabaret venues of the city, just two years in the business. There are some changes – although, for those familiar with Dozier’s work, it may come as good news that he remains an unapologetic romantic reminiscent, but not imitative, of crooners of the 50s and 60s – but for better or worse, that style comes with a certain moderated emotionality. He consistently renders ballads with a smooth, unforced voice and a gracious sensitivity to the material.
Dozier is less insistent than he was five years ago and a bit softer around the edges, but he retains a gentle sense of humor. Last night Dozier was accompanied by Alex Rybeck (as he was at the Met Room four years before), a professional of long standing and well-earned repute in the New York cabaret scene as a pianist, composer and arranger.
The show was presented to the accompaniment of Rybeck’s solo piano – which made the whole more intimate as befitting the venue. Dozier opened with “I Hear Bells” (Maltby, Shire) recorded on his Love’s Never Lost CD, with a bit of an easy swing. (Indeed, the first ‘half’ of the show comprised favorites from his first three CDs.) Dozier followed that with a medley that included “Put on a Happy Face” (Strouse, Adams) to an understated syncopation, the arrangement of which was gifted to him by the celebrated Marilyn Maye.
Dozier broke briefly here to greet the audience on this “All Hallows Christmas Eve” – recognizing the inevitable marketing blitz that has now joined the year-end holidays like pearls on a single strand. He followed with “Love-wise” (Elmslie, Fisher), new to me – despite having been recorded by Nat King Cole (and others) – and charming. The lyric recites the many ways in which the object of his affection appeals: love-wise, smile-wise, touch-wise, dream-wise, face-wise, etc. In keeping with his theme of romantic standards, Dozier moved on to “Wonderful, Wonderful” (Edwards, Raleigh) and “If Ever I would Leave You” (Lerner, Loewe) with particularly rich piano backing and an extended emotional reach.
In New York, one must give a nod to the city which here was realized with a marvelous medley of “The Sidewalks of New York” (Lawlor, Blake), “New York on Sunday” (McWilliams), “New York, New York” (Bernstein, Comden and Green) and “There’s a Boat that’s Leaving Soon for New York” (Heyward, Greshwin). In the same vein, Dozier sang “It’s a New York Romance” (Magee), with a lyric both funny and self-aware of the particular nuttiness that New York overlays on life’s usual passions.
“It’s all the times you thought that you were going, but you didn’t go, you stayed.
It’s all the times you thought that you were making love, when you were getting laid.
It’s a New York romance; it’s a ringside romance; it’s a terrible surprise.
It’s a last-ditch romance; it’s a desperate romance, telling hopeful little lies. . . .
It’s a New York romance.”
My favorite Dozier piece followed – a medley of “I’ll be Loving You” and “Time Heals Everything,” magically arranged by Alex Rybeck. The marriage is unexpected, but deft and lovely.
One song later we got to the express purpose of the show, to introduce Dozier’s new Christmas CD, Christmas Eve. A rendition of “Silent Night” (traditional) was sung without filigree, simply as it demands, but it was perhaps too early in the season, and too out of context, to receive it as intended. “Let It Snow” (Styne, Cahn) was sprightlier and jazzy and lifted the atmosphere in the room.“My Grownup Christmas List” (Thompson, Forster) followed. This tune was widely recorded five years ago but goes back farther; it is an aspirational and inspirational song which, in these days of cynicism and angst, we may need more than ever. This was the announced final song of the set, usually followed by an exit and mock-reluctant return for an encore.
Dozier recognized the traditional ruse by noting that there was nowhere to go – so he stayed – and encored with “From a Distance” (Julie Gold). This is another tune about how, with sufficient distance, the nations of the world appear to be one people, a theme with which many New Yorkers agree, but in these days a harder sell across the nation.
The audience was peppered with many who were apparently familiar with Dozier, and many more who clearly enjoyed his talents. I am one – although I would like to see more emotional and dynamic range in the performance. I know it is there if he wants to call on it. Perhaps I will see it at the Green Room on December 17 or 18 when he will next perform in New York (with some other exceptional performers).
The Beach Café is a modest sized venue with a long history as a casual dining room at 70th and 2nd Avenue. It began offering music at the encouragement primarily of Mark Nadler two years ago. The proprietor, David Goodside, has been with the Beach Café for about 35 years, first as an employee and now as owner. He had, at one time, owned a recording studio and has leveraged that knowledge and hardware to equip the Beach Café with a sophisticated sound system that is unobtrusive and effective. The cafe itself remains informal but draws to its small stage some of the best cabaret talent in the city; it offers an intimate setting in homey surroundings.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen. Visit Fred’s website.