Swing Lessons: Melissa Errico and Billy Stritch

Melissa Errico is a Broadway Baby, Billy Stritch, who can frankly do most anything musical, a Jazz Man. The premise of this loosey goosey collaboration is that Errico wants to learn jazz. The result- arrangements and instrumental parentheses often lean towards jazz, while vocals remain songbook based. As the pianist/MD is a craftsman, there’s neither conflict nor dissonance.

Stritch opens the evening with an easy, swing version of “Haven’t We Met?” (Kenny Rankin/Ruth Batchelor) personifying the adage less is more. Errico exuberantly performs “The Song is You” (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II). Open-throated delivery expands into the club almost visually. Infectiously present, she’s almost never still onstage, rhythmically vibrating, bouncing, or actually dancing.

A jaunty “Walking Happy” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn) begins with Tom Hubbard’s cool bass. Vocal combo works well. Errico’s long note is unusually at least half vibrato. She has superb control.  “We finally landed on stage together – and they came!” 

On the heels of a story about meeting Antonio Carlos Jobim in Brazil, Stritch offers his interpretation of Jobim’s “Meditation.” The artist’s cottony vocal accompanied by stroked piano with just enough pressure to elicit notes is simply beautiful. Deeply romantic, it’s as if he laid a soft shawl around our collective shoulders. A whispered ending gently hugs the room. Later Stritch’s “Nice and Easy” (Lew Spence) arrives with appealing nonchalance and minimal ornamentation. 

A medley from the 1936 musical On Your Toes (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) brings freshness. Though the songs are familiar, one rarely hears selections in succession epitomizing the classic musical. With Errico’s “It’s Got To Be Love”, we see the ingénue and her fella bemoaning their state like an ailment: It’s got to be love!/It couldn’t be tonsillitis;/It feels like neuritis,/But nevertheless it’s love…

“Glad to Be Unhappy” finds the piano breathing with the singer, the bass as if muted. There’s a catch in Errico’s voice, the occasional emotional pause. “Small Hotel” is dancey. It reminds us Stritch can really croon. “On Your Toes” finds his collaborator wiggling, stepping, extending her arms, then a hip bump. Fun.

Errico’s “I Got Lost in His Arms” (Irving Berlin) is a sweet swoon, left hand and eyes opening and closing with feeling. “A Sleeping Bee” (Truman Capote/Harold Arlen) is hushed and silken. Piano flutters as if dappled light. Gracefully woven together, “Good Thing Going” (Stephen Sondheim) and “What’ll I Do” (Irving Berlin) are perfectly paired. The songs emerge melancholy and sincere. Stritch’s understated style here makes these all the more effective.

“The Lady is a Tramp” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) sacrifices itself to both jazz line and speed. Wry inflection and flirtation are both lost. “Old Devil Moon” (E.Y. Harburg/Burton Lane)  is, in my opinion, too big for its haunted lyric.

An encore of “Make Someone Happy” (Jule Styne/Adolph Green and Betty Comden)  leaves us happily swaying.

Stritch, who’s been professionally performing since his teens, is at home at any venue, focused and aware of his audience. Errico, alas, falls into the trap of stage actors who accustomed to a dark house, rotate their heads, but never “see” us or connect. That she’s clearly a likeable, articulate personality (read the article she recently wrote for The New York Times), makes this a loss to both talented performer and fans.

Tom Hubbard is an asset to any musical collaboration, skilled, committed, creative.

Photos by Stephen Sorokoff

Swing Lessons– Melissa Errico and Billy Stritch
Tom Hubbard- Bass

August 4-6, 2022

54Below   
254 West 54th Street
Venue Calendar

About Alix Cohen (1332 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.