BWW Review: The Revelatory Cy Walter Centennial Celebration Is Immensely Entertaining at The Cutting Room
Sunday night, Mark Walter topped off a year of Herculean accomplishment in preserving his father's legacy with a concert at the Cutting Room that went off like fireworks. Somewhere, composer /lyricist/arranger/pianist Cy Walter (right in Lloyd Diaz photo), was beaming. In 2015, Mark completed his father's discography filed with The Library of Congress, created a spanking new website, established The Cy Walter Foundation, and put out a two CD package of pre-1950's music with Harbinger Records. The Sunday concert, with expert Musical Direction by the inimitable Tedd Firth, was an opportunity not only to salute a multifaceted talent, but also for many, including Mark (photo below left), to hear songs that haven't been performed for 60 or 70 years.
Cy Walter aka Cyril Frank Walter (which performer Eric Comstock pointed out is an anagram for "lyric") was for many years a well known café society pianist and accompanist, often called the "Art Tatum of Park Avenue." He briefly had both his own orchestra and club, appeared regularly on ABC's popular weekly radio series Piano Playhouse, and opened the elegant Drake Room at Manhattan's Drake Hotel, where he held court until a week before his death. Still, much of Walter's work was unknown to those who hadn't been up front and center.
The jam-packed, three-hour festivity included instrumentals, vocals, and even an exhilarating exhibition of The Astaire, whose melody was composed at the behest of the icon himself to launch his dance studios. (With cabaret legend Steve Ross--who better?-singing, dance partners Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman managed splendidly in a very limited space.) Firth was intermittently at the piano with Tom Hubbard on bass and Peter Grant on drums. Later these musicians were joined by "The Cy Walter Celebratory Orchestra."
One of the unquestionable treats of this evening featured the two-piano arrangements, which are unfortunately prohibitively expensive for most clubs. Walter and his most frequent collaborator, Stan Freeman, evidently "talked" these for the radio show, then simply launched.
Peter Mintun and Steve Ross's duet of Cole Porter's "You Do Something To Me" was off the charts terrific. The familiar song arrived in vignettes of varied attitude from soft tap to lush romantic to ragtime. Imagination was inspired, sound sumptuous, musicianship top notch.
Before the delightful Cole Porter duo-piano piece, Peter Mintun performed a swell arrangement of "The Waltz in Swing Time" (according to Mark Walter, long the theme song for the Piano Playhouse radio show and closely associated with the Cy Walter/Stan Freeman performance). Tedd Firth and Jed Distler also executed a lush two-piano, Walter-style rendition of "Lover" (Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers), which was gloriously fluid and light with crystalline glissando and embroidered flourishes.
New to me, appealing tenor Doug Bowles (left in photo) Alex Hassan, piano) performed several numbers with conversational esprit including the sophisticated, 1930's sounding "I'll Never Tire of You" (Cy Walter/Jimmy Dobson/Richard Kollmar). I'm tired of dancing from dinner to dawn/But this I know, I'll never tire of you . . . Jeff Harnar's (right in photo) lyrical investment in a happy-go-lucky "Each Time I See You" (Cy Walter) conjured unseen dancing, while his "The Next Time Around" (Alec Wilder/Cy Walter) delivered a melancholy lyric at odds with up-tempo and smiling performance.
Jennifer Sheehan (far left in photo) and Marissa Mulder (left), considered among cabaret's younger generation of stars, showed off skill and range on several numbers. Sheehan's sultry "Time and Tide" (Alec Wilder/Cy Walter) was like listening to lapping waves on a romantic Latin shore. Wide octave changes were beautifully effected. The vocalist wrapped herself in lyrics like a shimmering cloak. Mulder's "Some Fine Day," perhaps the best known of Walter's songs (music and lyrics) was double barreled--a lovely song performed with infectious exuberance by a talent we've watched blossom. Mulder's well known breathy, flirty signature here opened high, wide and flying. A genuine pleasure.
KT Sullivan captivated with the unexpected, bass-centric "Venice Has Water in The Streets" (Chilton Ryan, present with affectionate anecdotes/Cy Walter). Anywhere in the world, a traffic jam is frantic/But when you're in a gondola, there's nothing more romantic . . . Twinking, and deadpan, the artist was effervescent. On "This Time Next Year" (Andrew Rosenthal/Cy Walter), Stacy Sullivan arrived cool, jazzy, blithe, and naturally rhythmic.
The cavalcade of performers also included: Pianist Jenny Lin (whom I found heavy handed); Karen Oberlin (whose expansive, well-phrased renditions warmed the room); the expectedly super Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano (who brightened the evening with Comstock's breezy, original arrangements and Fasano's luxurious romantic turn and their bemused duet); and Ronny Whyte, who should give lessons on phrasing, illusively easy vocals, and how to stay young.
Like I said, fireworks or, as the inimitable Steve Ross commented, "A real New York moment."
The Cy Walter Centennial Celebratory Orchestra: Tedd Firth, Tom Hubbard, Peter Grant, Mark Phaneuf, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, Kurt Bacher, Brian Pareschi, Evan Barker, Irv Grossman, Matt Musselman, Mike Boscarino. Orchestrations by Tedd Firth and Mark Lopeman, except for "The Astaire," arranged by Johnny Warrington.
The Cy Walter Sublimities CD: Volumes 1 and 2 are going to be officially distributed by Naxos in November. Before then they can be purchased at the Harbinger Records website, www.harbingerrecords.com. For more information, go to: www.cywalter.com.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto