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
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