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BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland Theater

It was a family affair at Birdland Tuesday night as Matt Baker brought everyone together for a concert benefitting his homeland, Australia, where mass devastation has been of worldwide concern after the bushfires that ran rampant recently. The people at Birdland truly are a family, from the excellent front of house staff to the servers delivering delicious food and drink to the patrons, and, of course, the family of artists creating the shows seen on stage every night; so it should come as a surprise to nobody that when Mr. Baker reached out to his friends about raising money to assist the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund and NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, Inc., everyone said yes, without hesitation. The result of Matt Baker's desire to be of service to his home country resulted in a spectacular night of entertainment for a nearly sold-out house of jazz fans. A man whose skill at curating talent is on a par with his expertise at the keyboards, Mr. Baker's evening line-up was one sublime musical moment after another, with Baker providing host and emcee duties slick enough to conjure up visions of his own jazz-centric Birdland Variety Show - a vision that kind of makes your mouth water.

It's a beautiful thing to see a family at work, and the ninety minutes of the OZ RELIEF 2020 Benefit was a perfect opportunity to see that kind of dynamic in action. Mr. Baker being a longtime regular on the Birdland stages and the creator of the evening, it was only natural that he should open the show (beautifully and appropriately with a jazz-rendition of "Talk to The Animals") but it was completely apropos that his first act to the stage was Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch, who are, rather, the big brothers of Birdland, always taking care of everyone, making them feel welcome and safe and at home; and, let's face it, any chance to see these two men perform is reason enough to buy a ticket to a show. Having the terrific twosome kick off the proceedings with the chemistry, humor and musical stylings for which they have become so famous set the tone of the evening, one that included some low, slow, sexy, swinging jazz music from musicians Nadje Noordhuis and Jonathan Dely, who covered the emotional spectrum with the music coming from their respective brass attacks on a crowd carried away on the stream of sensual sounds they were creating. Ms. Noordhuis has a breathtaking ability at taking an instrument that is often heard to blare and making it whisper as quietly as a feline purr, manipulating the music in ways that resemble a delicate dance between the horn and the microphone - it was as fascinating to watch her work as it was satisfying to listen to it. And Mr. Delay seems to have stepped right off of a movie screen, with his leading man good looks, chic apparel, and confidence in his craft that makes it hard to believe he isn't the most famous horn player in the world. There is witchcraft in the lips of Noordhuis and Delay, as evidenced by the Birdland Theater audience, hypnotized and energized by the musical moxie on display during a ninety-minute set that boasted the best jazz has to offer.

On the subject of jazz, the vocalists for the evening included the vastly different and equally exciting Nicole Zuraitis and Jane Irving. The superb Zuraitis accompanied herself on piano for a little Peter Allen, an Australian treasure represented repeatedly throughout the evening, before being joined on piano by Mr. Baker for a cheeky "I've Got a Crush On You" that was, clearly, platonic but no less flirtatious that it should have been. The two are a perfect example of chemistry, both personal and professional, making one wish for a Zuraitis/Baker show, as soon as possible. It isn't hard to have chemistry when you're performing with your husband, so when Ms. Irving took hold of the mic with husband Kevin Hailey right behind her on double Bass (and Curtis Nowosad on drums), it was an extra special treat, which is saying something because Ms. Irving is one badass jazz stylist, the kind that makes audiences say WOW during her numbers.

Ah, the audience, now there's an interesting part of the evening because these people knew what they were there for, that much was plain to see. Looking around the room anyone could be observed gleefully filming the various acts on their phones, or maybe with their eyes closed, moving their blissful bodies in time with the music. The several Australians in the house could be seen mouthing the words to "Waltzing Matilda" even though the magnificent jazz arrangement of the would-be Australian national anthem was all instrumental -- but these people knew where the lyrics lay in the Baker's interpretive version of the tune, and they were in the heaven he intended to take them to when he created the arrangement. The most fun, though, was an elderly couple seated right at the edge of the stage who kept leaning into each other for a cuddle or a smooch... but only briefly because the husband repeatedly broke away from his lady love to play the air piano, air bass, air horn and even do a little air conducting. It was a glorious slice of humanity that made this writer happy he chose the event, rather than take a much-needed night off.

As wonderful as every minute of the Oz Relief 2020 Benefit was, it has to be said that the most special moments came while watching Matt Baker's fingers glide over the piano, barely even touching the keys, giving birth to musical moments so gloriously thrilling as to leave one asking what could possibly happen that could be better? Well, Matt Baker said it himself when he introduced "The greatest singer ever" to the stage, the treasure that is Marilyn Maye. When you can get Marilyn Maye to make an appearance in your group show, you can sleep at night knowing that you done good, and Matt Baker done good - no mistake. Marilyn Maye is beyond anything, musically and personally, and her Rainbow medley with Billy Stritch was filled with such joy and optimism and it wasn't difficult to wish that the people of Australia could see her perform it because Maye and her music will always bring the message that everything will be alright. She is that magical.

The fires in Australia have stopped but there is much rebuilding to do, both of the country and of the peoples' morale. Matt Baker and Co. have done something with their beautiful benefit designed to raise funds, which they did, but what they really raised is awareness. Australia continues to need our help and everyone can and should give. Please, dear Broadway World readers, consider lending your support to any Australian cause helping to rebuild. Let us all come together, like the Birdland family, and be a family of world citizens helping others in a far land who are in need.

To learn more or to donate to NSW Rural Fire Service click here
To learn more or to donate to WIRES Wildlife Rescue click here

To find shows to see at Birdland please visit their website
Find Matt Baker online at his website

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMatt Baker and Jim Caruso with Kevin Hailey and Curtis Nowosad

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterBilly Stritch and Jim Caruso with Kevin Hailey and Curtis Nowosad

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterNadje Noordhuis with Kevin Hailey and Curtis Nowosad

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMatt Baker

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMatt Baker and Nicole Zuraitis

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMatt Baker and Marilyn Maye

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMiss Marilyn Maye

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterBilly Stritch

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterJonathan Dely

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterJane Irving with Kevin Hailey on Bass and Curtis Nowosad on Drums

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland TheaterMatt Baker

BWW Review: Audiences Are Elated When MATT BAKER HOSTS 0Z RELIEF 2020 at The Birdland Theater

Photos by Stephen Mosher




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