The Cabaret Chronicles: Aztec Two-Step, Tom D'Angelo, Diane Marino, and More!
Happy Saturday! I've had a great week of show-going - busy, but great! It all began on Sunday evening at BB King Blues Club, with a stellar Simon & Garfunkel tribute by folk/rock duo Aztec Two-Step (singers/guitarists Neal Shulman and Rex Fowler). Joined by legendary radio broadcaster Pete Fornatale (also the author of the book Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends!), who sprinkled interesting anecdotes throughout the concert, the duo wove their way through a number of Simon & Garfunkel's greatest hits such as "59th Street Bridge Song," "America," "Cecilia," "I Am A Rock," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Boxer," and a brilliant pairing of "Sound of Silence" and "Scarborough Fair." There was a terrific camaraderie onstage, both among Mr. Shulman and MR. Fowler (who have been playing together for 39 years!), and also extending to include Mr. Fornatale and bassist Fred Holman. Although there was a clear structure to the show, there was also plenty of room for off-the-cuff comments and jokes among the performers, which added a great deal of fun to an already thoroughly enjoyable show! Due in no small part to their long partnership, I'm sure, Mr. Shulman's and MR. Fowler's voices blended perfectly together, truly recalling the beautiful music produced by the duo to whom they were paying tribute. Happily for the audience, we got treated to an Aztec Two-Step original tune, "Highway Song" as an encore. Featuring beautiful harmonies and terrific lyrics, it fit squarely into the Simon & Garfunkel feel for the evening, and definitely piqued my interest in hearing more of Aztec Two-Step! All in all, a terrific start to the week!
Monday evening, as usual, it was off to Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland. Featuring performances by Michael Winther, Edward Lovett, David Rasche, Kathleen France, Maureen Taylor, Rob Langeder, Tuey Connell, Janet Fanale, and, of course, the host himself, it was a fantastic night at the legendary jazz club! The Cast Party Symphony Orchestra (Billy Stritch on piano, Steve Doyle on bass, and Dustin Jensen on drums) was superb, and as an extra-special treat, Jim and Billy did their best Sonny and Cher for the adoring crowd! What a night!
On Tuesday evening, I headed to The Metropolitan Room to catch Tom D'Angelo in This Time I'm Swinging, a show which featured lots of swinging standards and a few fun surprises, like guest vocalist Cassandra Kubinski and guest saxophonist Jackie Michaels. Opening with "We've Got A World That Swings," Mr. D'Angelo had the audience singing, clapping and bopping along from the get-go, and a party-like atmosphere filled the room. Backed by some terrific musicians (Musical Director Bill Gulino on piano, Rich Gutches on guitar, and Bobby Sher on drums), the charming Mr. D'Angelo proceeded to swing his way through a bunch of great songs, including "Another Saturday Night," "Sway," "Please Be Kind," and "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," keeping the crowd energized and entertained throughout the evening.
Wednesday evening was a busy one for me - first I headed to Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Triangle for my own show, which celebrated the release of my new CD, To Connie...Love, Jenna. The show was part of the "Any Wednesday" series helmed by Bart Greenberg, who has done wonders for the cabaret community through his hard work. The series features a different performer every week (usually one who has recently released a new CD!) in a free half hour concert which is open to the public and helps to promote cabaret performers to a crowd which may otherwise never have known about them! I was thrilled to be able to participate this week, and encourage any music lovers to check out the series! After Barnes & Noble, it was off the Iguana VIP Lounge for Wednesday Night at the Iguana, the weekly singers' showcase hosted by Richard Skipper and Dana Lorge. This week, the featured performers included Michelle Collier, Annette Hunt, Enid, David Vernon, Joan Jaffee, and Diane Marino, each of whom performed a 3 song set and kept the packed room entertained throughout the night! Other performers included Jill Melanie Wirth, Barbara Porteus, Cindy Marchionda, Mary & Jim Lahti, Rob Langeder, Maureen Taylor, Tom D'Angelo, and (of course!) the talented and charming hosts themselves, Richard Skipper and Dana Lorge. Barry Levitt and Saadi Zain provided terrific backing on piano and bass, respectively, and it really ended up being a great night!
On Thursday night, it was back to The Metropolitan Room to catch jazz singer/pianist Diane Marino in her show Just Groovin', which included songs from her recently released CD of the same name, as well as songs from her previous two CDs. The show featured a whole slew of well-loved songs, including "I Concentrate On You," "So Danco Samba," "Baby It's You," "Baby I'm Yours," and "Groovin,'" each of which had a contemporary, jazzy spin, but managed to remain true to the original intent of the song - not an easy task, but one which Ms. Marino accomplished with style and ease. A terrific pianist herself, Ms. Marino also surrounded herself with stellar musicians, including Frank Marino (her husband!) on bass, Warren Benbow on drums, and Dave Riekenberg on soprano sax, tenor sax, and flute. The collective musicianship was outstanding, and made for a thoroughly enjoyable show. Ms. Marino is currently based in Nashville, but will happily be making another trip north later this year for a performance at Feinstein's at Loews Regency on June 14th!
That's about all for this week, but be sure to check back next Saturday for a new column!
Coming up this week...
Sunday, January 31st: Sue Matsuki at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. A well-loved bastion of the NYC cabaret scene, award-winning vocalist Sue Matsuki is bringing her acclaimed Ella Fitzgerald tribute, Ella & Me, to one of the most exclusive rooms in town. Show starts at 8:30 p.m.
Monday, February 1st: 7:00 p.m. - Sam Harris at Birdland. Catapulted into fame by his success on the premiere season of "Star Search," Mr. Harris has gone on to an immensely successful career as a multi-million selling recording artist, Tony-nominated Broadway star, television actor, and concert artist. I'm thrilled to be able to see him in concert for the first time this week! Following Mr. Harris' concert, I'll be sticking around at Birdland for Jim Caruso's Cast Party. Hosted by Jim Caruso, this fantastic open mic runs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. but make sure to get there early to sign up if you want to sing!
Friday, February 5th: MetroJam at The Metropolitan Room. Hosted by yours truly, this monthly open mic is a great kickoff to the weekend. Each month features a different "guest star" who does a three-song set, and this month's guest is guitarist extraordinaire Sean Harkness, who not only has a successful career as a solo recording artist, but is one of the most in-demand musicians in the city! The open mic runs from 10 p.m. - midnight, but please be sure to arrive early if you'd like to sign up to perform!
Pictured: Aztec Two-Step (Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman, l-r)
From This Author Jenna Esposito