Jazz at The Ballroom presents Take Me Back to Manhattan

Sublime Catherine Russell opens this show with “Broadway” (Count Basie) swinging chummy from the iconic Café Carlyle. The artist is authentic. A well curated roster of musicians then performs with glimpses of archetypal Manhattan between and the brief exchanges of host television’s Frank Di Lela and Carlyle entertainer, fashion designer, Isaac Mizrahi.

Benny Benack (vocal/trumpet) offers Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz” with cool phrasing and cooler trumpet. The rendition is low key and agile with a dash of play. “Um-ber-el-las,” he sings. “How About You?” (Burton Lane/ Ralph Freed) arrives amiable and buoyant in duet with Molly Ryan. Their voices work well together. The innately swanky (not pretentious) Ryan also sings “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block” (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin). Her pearly, unhurried vocal melts one phrase into the next. And oh, that delectable vibrato.

Konrad Paszkudzki. Benny Benack and Molly Ryan in rehearsal

Di Lila introduces Isaac Mizrahi as indicative of New York’s characters. Both agree Café Carlyle and Broadway are two of the main reasons to love New York. Mizrahi grew up with “reverence” for it and started playing an annual residence in 2017. “What makes The Carlyle special in my mind,” he notes, “is the adultness of it. There have to be a few places in the world not for kids. And, of course, the music is superb.” Di Lela asks what in particular Mizrahi likes about the city. “The way people look and interact,” comes the reply. “The level of human contact you get is rare in American cities. We don’t spend a lot of time in our cars. It’s a feast for the eye and intellect.”

Will Anderson and Peter Anderson excavate the familiar “42nd Street” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) on saxophone and clarinet with natural authority and symbiotic verve. These young musicians get inside music of this era like few others. Nikki Parrot (vocal/bass) presents Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart’s “Manhattan” as a savory stroll. Her breathy vocal has cocktail class. The second set of lyrics is, however, specifically updated as if to promote eating out in Manhattan and is out of place. Hands on her hips, Alysha Humphress’s version of “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss) emerges well calibrated, no nonsense. Vocal radiates out with slip/slide ease and a touch of sass.

Champion Fulton by Rob Davidson Media

Champion Fulton (piano/vocal) sashays “New York on Sunday” (Peter Nero/ Carroll Coates) with flair, her slightly sandy alto thoroughly appealing. Later, she treats us to Mabel Mercer’s “Carry Me Back to Old Manhattan.” Shoulders sway, her nose crinkles. The artist’s distinctive phrasing showcases a tony sense of level and emphasis. “Lulu’s Back in Town” (Fats Waller) is evocatively represented by Kyle Taylor Parker’s bright, giddy, infectiously fun rendition. Like swagger in place.

To my mind, the find of the show (I’m familiar with most of these performers) is the duo Alphonso Horne and Mathis Picard (vocal and trumpet; piano). Their instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s iconic “Take the A Train” is flat out terrific. The highly skilled musicians put a personal stamp on this well known tune with flair and precision that sounds as loose-limed as improv. They return later in the line-up adding an understated, perfectly inflected vocal to Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at The Savoy.” A tantalizing rendition. These two are the real thing.

Matthew Picard and Alphonso Horne

Also featuring: Pianist Ehud Ashiere, Peter Cincotti (piano/vocal), young Samara Joey who has a good sense of swing and a fine vocal instrument, but a blank expression and no sense of what she’s singing. Dylan Shamat and Pasquale Grasso on bass and guitar.

Catherine Russell by Sandrine Lee

A sophisticated, declarative jazz rendition of “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander) from which several other musical genres peek out is delivered by MD/Pianist Konrad Paszkudzki whose finger work is superb. We wrap up with Catherine Russell performing “Take Me Back to Manhattan” (Cole Porter) which is at the same time a prime example of panache and somehow rallying.

Mizrahi feels when live entertainment returns, we’re in for a renaissance. A good thought.

Songs are well chosen. The show is smoothly produced with fine sound and camera work. It’s a pleasure to see everyone dressed up.

All photos courtesy of the show.

Jazz at The Ballroom presents
Take Me Back to Manhattan
At Café Carlyle- The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel
Music Director/Piano- Konrad Paszkudzki
Dylan Shamat –bass; Keith Balla- drums
Director & Videographer – Cody Williams for Ordinary Sunday

MAY 2-7 with the possibility of extending
Click for Tickets

About Alix Cohen (1122 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine 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.