The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s annual summer concert celebrated composer Howard Dietz (1896-1983) and lyricist Arthur Schwartz (1900-1984), while including an unrelated roster of other writers. Relative newcomers and established artists presented jazz, cabaret, and musical theater interpretations out of what we call The American Songbook, which, despite suggestions to the contrary, continues to endure and evolve.
Arthur Schwartz was pressured into law by his family and admitted to the bar in 1924. By 1928, having moonlighted for years, he’d closed his office in favor of songwriting. Howard Dietz moved from advertising to MGM’s Vice President in Charge of Publicity, originating their iconic, roaring lion as well as the slogan “More Stars than there are in Heaven.” The composer wrote continuously throughout his alternate career. Collaboration began with The Little Show, a revue starring Libby Holman, Clifton Webb, and Fred Allen. The rest is history.
Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz (Wikipedia)
In her best, wide-eyed, faux innocent persona, the Foundation’s Artistic Director, KT Sullivan, opened with “Confession” from The Band Wagon.
Frank Dain’s version of “Penny” was utterly enchanting. (Songwriter/musical director/musician/board member and lifetime card-carrying, cabaret supporter Larry Elow.) Dain shimmered with ardor. The unfussy ballad goes straight to the heart with timeless appeal. Kathleen Landis – lovely arrangement, graceful piano.
“Make the Man Love Me” (Arthur Schwartz/Dorothy Fields) emerged genuinely sweet as rendered by Lauren Stanford. During an instrumental, the vocalist seemed to continue internal dialogue holding us captive. Piano-Jon Weber.
Frank Dain; Lauren Stanford
The Inimitable Sidney Meyer, who has the most articulate shoulders in the business, sang “Rainy Night in Rio” (Arthur Schwartz/Leo Robin) with iconoclastic, deadpan phrasing, impish facial expression, and the rousing help of the band’s “Ai Yi Yi!” chorus. A photographic finish. Piano-Jon Weber.
Danny Bacher and Alexis Cole, usually solo performers, symbiotically joined for three numbers with Cole at the piano and Bacher on soprano sax as well as duet vocals. “I’ll Buy You a Star” (Arthur Schwartz/Dorothy Fields) swung in with the ease of a languid hammock. “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” was insouciant rather than wistful. “You and The Night and The Music” showcased the artists’ extraordinary ability with scat. Someone find these people a supper club!
Alexis Cole; Danny Bacher
In his first appearance with The Mabel Mercer Foundation, Darius de Haas displayed well honed acting skill with the theatrical prose/poem “Trotsky in Mexico” (Renee Rosnes/David Hajdu). An original “Shine On Your Shoes” arrived like a slow-motion Fred Astaire turn, every word savored as if preaching gospel. Todd Firth-splendid, textural piano and arrangements.
John Wallowich’s “I Live Alone Again” was performed with rare restraint by Mark Nadler as stipulated by its author – first verse a lament, second in gleeful relief. The artist sold both with credibility. “By Myself,” adroitly including Jack Buchanan’s original spoken word, was a crie de coeur rather than familiar resignation. And, oh, the piano!
Mark Nadler; Marta Sanders
To my mind, this evening’s highlight was veteran Marta Sanders whose inhabiting lyrics, flexible timbre, and arch humor created a show unto itself. The gypsy “Come A-Wandering With Me”(Mark Nadler-emphatic piano), cue atmospheric stage smoke, was followed with equal fervor by John Wallowich’s amusing “Warsaw,” (John McMahon-piano), an impeccably timed in-one, deftly utilizing a babushka.
Sullivan then closed with “Lovely,” for which she played matchmaker to a forgotten composition by Howard Dietz and Bart Howard’s lyrics, and, perhaps the best known Dietz and Schwartz song, “Dancing in The Dark” materializing a chanteusey, soprano waltz. Jon Weber-piano.
Also featuring: exuberant Seth Sikes; Celia Berk’s poignant “Something to Remember You By” rife with implicit “please”; an underwhelming Margi Gianquinto; the polished Sue Matsuki with a clever, if seemingly out of place number on which she collaborated; a bright, sweetheart rendition of “Rhode Island is Famous for You” from Karen Oberlin; Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s extremely original interpretation of “Alone Together” with massaged vocal, wordless singing, and Valkyrie delivery; the sincere Gary Crawford; and Mauricio Bustamante’s rendition of John Wallowich’s “Bruce.”
Musicianship was uniformly superb.
Performance Photos by Seth Cashman
Opening: Jon Weber; KT Sullivan
Songs by other than Dietz and Schwartz are noted.
Recommended Reading: Dancing in The Dark by Howard Dietz (published in 1974)
That’s Entertainment: Dietz & Schwartz and Friends
Music Director: Jon Weber
Saadi Zain-bass, Sean Harkness-guitar, David Silliman-drums.
Weill Hall June 20, 2017
The Mabel Mercer Foundation
Cabaret Convention: October 16-19, 2017
And so they gather once again like migrated birds instinctively drawn to the annual Cabaret Convention, the smorgasbord of an art still beloved. From all over the country, hotels are booked, other shows ticketed. Some out of town attendees meet only once a year on this occasion, while local denizens take the opportunity to greet favorite artists and compare opinions. The 27th edition of the celebratory event boasts a 15 year-old newcomer as well as performers from London and Australia. Buzz is palpable.
KT Sullivan by Maryann Lopinto
Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation/Host, KT Sullivan, opens the show with a high, light version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” Tonight, she might be singing about the audience or the extraordinary fascinator perched on her chignon. (Piano-Jon Weber, Bass- Steve Doyle, Drums- Rob Garcia)
Next we’re treated to Robert Creighton who must run to the theater where he’s starring in his own co-written musical Cagney. “No matter what your political leanings, sometimes it’s hard to see how great this country is.” Creighton performs George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” unfathomably without dancing. Renditions are easy, slightly nasal, with apt Cagney inflection. (MD/piano- Matt Perri)
Highlights of the evening follow.
Josephine Bianco; Kelly McDonald by Maryann Lopinto
A finalist at both the Metrostar and Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Academy competitions, 15 year-old Josephine Bianco offers Jule Styne/Bob Merrill’s “People” displaying all the right instincts. The performer takes her time, looks into audience faces, and imbues the number with both personal expression and subtle modulations. Someone to watch.
Burgeoning artist, Kelly McDonald, introduces one of the evening’s few contemporary numbers, “Latte Boy” (Marcy Heisler/ Zina Goldrich). Her vocal is lovely, character embodiment innocent and credible. Kudos to the appealing McDonald for taking a risk. (Piano on both-Jon Weber)
Stacy Sullivan; Natalie Douglas by Stephen Sorokoff
From new CD Stranger in a Dream, we hear Stacy Sullivan’s deft, airbrushed “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Duke Ellington/Don George/Johnny Hodges/ Harry James) and a well rendered swing selection in which the vocalist shifts octaves like an aerialist (MD/piano-Jon Weber).
The surprising opening of Act II is a buoyant “Helpless” (Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton) featuring Karen Oberlin, KT Sullivan, Natalie Douglas as Eliza and Jon Weber- rapping! (MD/piano-Jon Weber). Douglas is then palpably surprised by winning the Donald F. Smith Award endowed by Adela and Larry Elow. Her interpretation of Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” is beautifully understated. (MD/piano- Mark Hartman)
Vivian Reed and Dancers by Stephen Sorokoff
Broadway’s Vivian Reed unleashes “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Ben Bernie/Maceo Pinkard/Kenneth Casey) as a full production number replete with choreographed backup dancers and bebop scat followed by a gospel “Believe” (admirably without overshooting the mark), which visibly courses through her. (MD/Piano-William Foster McDaniel)
Kristoffer Lowe’s jaunty, tandem “A Quarter to Nine” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) and “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” segues from stylish to infectiously happy. Lowe is old school classy. Making his Convention debut, the immensely elegant, decidedly decadent Kim David Smith captivates in English and pristine German with renditions of “Illusions” and “Eine Kleine…” (Piano-Tracy Stark)
Kristoffer Lowe; Kim David Smith by Maryann Lopinto
Irving Berlin’s “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” is married to Amanda McBroom’s poignant “Dance” by Susan Winter who takes us with her on every emotional journey. Shimmering arrangement by MD/pianist Alex Rybeck. The reliably show-stopping Carole J. Bufford erupts into “St. James Infirmary” with powerful vocal from chest to throat, growl to howl, sinuous moves, and a command of the stage we rarely see. (Matt Baker-piano, Tom Hubbard-bass, Rob Garcia-drums, Charlie Coranics- superior Trumpet)
Maureen McGovern is appreciatively presented this year’s Mabel Mercer Award. The artist then sings two immensely original takes on numbers from The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg): a charming preface of “Optimistic Voices” (You’re out of the woods…) leads to an a capella and acoustic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which one can only call indelible. Showcasing her range, McGovern then delivers an ardent, “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) with an entirely different voice. Wow. (MD/Piano-Jeff Harris)
Maureen McGovern by Stephen Sorokoff
Also featuring: Two Randy Newman songs from Karen Oberlin-one appealingly shadowy, the other, a dissonantly paired political ditty (Piano-Jon Weber); T. Oliver Reid’s bubbly “I’m Throwin’ a Ball Tonight” by Cole Porter (MD/Piano-Larry Yurman); A warm Fran Landesman/Alec Wilder number from Barbara Fasano who makes us empathize with every sentiment (Piano-Eric Comstock); Stephan Bednarczyk’s angry take on Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington” which defangs implicit wit…
Jacob Storms, whose voice is like an articulated hum, chooses two iconic songs on which he unfortunately leaves no personal stamp. (Piano-Jon Weber) Eric Yves Garcia’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’m A Gigolo” emerges vocally forced instead of insouciant, though the artist is capable of the latter. It should be noted, to my knowledge, this is the first time superb performer Leslie Hutchenson,“Hutch,” has been mentioned on the Convention stage. If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend research.
Barbara Fasano; Matt Baker by Stephen Sorokoff
Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” is evocatively performed by Matt Baker including breathy vocal and arrangement that sounds like fine, 1950s jazz. (Bass-Endea Owens, Drums-Darrian Douglas) He’s less successful with an over long, dense interpretation of the theme from The Apartment (Charles Williams.) Crowd pleaser Christina Bianco safely repeats her Kander and Ebb “Cabaret” turn for the umpteenth time, imitating such as Julie Andrews and Judy Garland. The talented vocalist might consider moving on. (Piano-Jon Weber)
Thanks to Steve Doyle and Ron Hubbard, bassists, Rob Garcia-drums.
The evening ran a long 2 ½ hours, but offered many rewarding performances.
Three to go. Information and tickets for October 20 & 21: www.mabelmercer.org
Opening Photo: Carole J. Bufford by Maryann Lopinto
The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
The 27th New York Cabaret Convention: Opening Night
Hosted by KT Sullivan
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
October 18, 2016