Lord Buckley Is All That Jazz
Cats, kittens and all you beautiful people, you simply mustn’t miss His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley and the man who stands in for the legend, one Jake Broder. Buckley’s hep, you hear? A hipster in the original sense of the word—not a lick of flannel in sight, opting for a white waistcoat and tails—and Broder stoked the flames, blowing hot tunes and slinging smoky jazz lingo in cool beat meter. Don’t be a square! If you dig classic licks and linguistic tricks, spend two out-of-this-world hours with Jake Broder and co. He’s feels the rhyme, the rhythm sublime, and I strongly suggest you make the time to get to 59E59 before Buckley and his merry band skip town.
That merry band includes Michael Lanahan as the Hip News Man and Abraham Lincoln, and a tight trio of piano, bass and drums manned by Mark Hartman, Brad Russell, and Daniel Glass, respectively. They swing into action with some “Money Jungle” and “Night in Tunisia” before Lanahan and Broder take the stage, hitting their stings and providing flawless accompaniment. Where Lanahan’s News Man cuts a lean and clean figure with thick black plastic frames and a high-and-tight haircut, Broder’s Buckley, despite the polish and tails, seems ready to bust out all over the place—in song, in dance, with a faux doobie stuffed between two fingers on one hand while the other snaps to punctuate his proposals. His voice moves from the Queen’s English in smooth RP to the gravelly tones of a handful of Southern characters in varying shades of unsettling.
In fact, between the hijinks and hilarity there are brief pauses in the action wherein Broder’s Buckley transitions from delightful to downright disconcerting when it comes to short vignettes regarding characters of African ancestry and their treatment, historically. Being as enamored of a style of music borne from the minds of beleaguered black men and women in an often hostile America, it makes sense to remind the Upper East Side audience of the crucible in which jazz was forged and refined. Never is this reminder more acute than before the lights fall on the first half, during a provocative version of “Georgia On My Mind.” Sure, the feeling is compounded by the fact that these voices are coming from a white dude in a fancy suit, but it’s clearly a performance grounded in earnest deference. And it’s never a bad thing to know from whence came the things we love, and especially the people who brought them to be.
The original Lord Buckley was an American comedic monologist in the 1940s and 50s whose act gave inspiration to the beat generation as well as the hippies and a cadre of cool 1950s artistic types the likes of Norman Mailer and Quincy Jones. He was a vessel through which flowed the lingo of a passing age, coming from influences on both sides of the pond. In his quieter moments he sounded like the proper Lord, but turned loose he let the jazz ethos run buck wild through his snazzy self and out into the world.
In the first half of this show, Buckley tackles seasonal favorites like A Christmas Carol and the tale of the Pied Piper. In the second half, Broder and co. turn their sights on the land of the free, performing a hip love letter to Honest Abe as well as expounding on more current events—though seen through hopeful, love-forward, rose-colored lenses. And through it all, Broder keeps his performance humming. It looks like no easy feat reciting all that purple-tinted prose, but he does so without a stumble. He’s high energy, high pathos, high minded and would allude to being just plain old high, though that is most certainly a nod to the habits of jazz’s past. I can’t imagine pulling off a performance like that while under any kind of mellowing influence. He takes the original Buckley’s work and runs with it, switching with ease from Received Pronunciation to something thick and soulful, never dropping character nor letting the energy flag. He’s sharp—sharply dressed, sharp of mind, quick of tongue—but at the same time offers a softer solution to the world’s ills. “Don’t Hate, Love Harder.” Take that beat to the streets, guys and dolls. Let it be known.
Photos by Vincent Scarano
His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley
Through January 1, 2016