BWW Review: PANGEA JAZZ BRUNCH OPEN MIC Will Be A Consistent Smash Hit Sell Out at Pangea
There's a new open mic in town and, dudes, you need to check it out because it was SO much fun last Saturday. The PANGEA JAZZ BRUNCH OPEN MIC is every third Saturday at Twelve noon at the downtown restaurant/cabaret room Pangea. So let's look at it, piece by piece: It's Saturday, it's brunch, it's jazz...what more could you want? And since it's brunch let us not skip over how great the food is at Pangea or how excellent the staff is, taking care of your every need with expediency and expertise. Even without the jazz trio and the multitudes of jazz singers there to entertain you, you would already be having a great time. So when you add the Gregory Toroian Trio (Skip Ward on Bass, David Silliman on drums, and Toroian on piano) and Sue Matsuki acting as hostess and emcee of the two and a half-hour open mic, you have an embarrassment of riches to make perfect your first day of the weekend.
The Pangea Jazz Brunch Open Mic is the brainchild of Matsuki and Toroian and they are working hard to create a safe space where singers can come and sing a song, maybe try out some new material, possibly dip their toes into the jazz waters for the first time, and enjoy the company of their fellow artists. It's a place filled with friendship and common respect among colleagues, all of which is a beautiful thing. And if I may be so gauche as to mention the sordid subject of money - It's fifteen dollars to enter and fifteen dollars of food and drink. For thirty (THIRTY) dollars you can eat, drink, and watch some of cabaret's great entertainers for 2 and half hours. If 150 minutes is too much for you, arrive or leave at your leisure - there were latecomers and early departures (including this writer, whose schedule can not permit a 2.5 hour stay) but never, at any time, did the room capacity dip below 50%. People were having too much fun watching people like Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Deborah Stone, Jacquie Draper and Katie Neiheisel sing their jazz solos to leave - and every soloist was an absolute pleasure to watch, even when a little bit nervous or trying out new material, which is what they should be doing in this environment filled with inspiration and reassurance.
Speaking personally, the most uplifting moment of the afternoon came from Susan Beishel, who confessed she was brand new to the singing artform and terribly nervous. A wonderful leader, Matsuki gently reminded her that this is a place of good will and friendship, judgement-free and safe, and that she was welcome here, indeed encouraged to be her true self. Ms. Beishel was a little timid coming out of the gate but finished strong and confident, her beautiful voice ringing out into the afternoon air as an entire room of cabaret veterans cheered her on. The whole time Beishel was in front of the mic, you could feel the energy of the room wafting up onto her like a security blanket of affection and allegiance, as the more experienced singers willed her their affection and their belief in her. It was a life-affirming exhibition of humanity.
Only their second day at it, last Saturday Matsuki, Toroian and the Pangea team were still ironing out some kinks in the system, kinks which will probably continue as they test out new things, discard them, try others, and finally find what is right for them. The way it works is this: The Jazz Brunch is on the third Saturday of the month (March 21st, April 18th, May 16th, June 20th, July 18th, Aug. 15th, Sept. 19th, Oct. 17th, Nov 21st and Dec. 19th) and people wishing to sing may send a slot reservation to firstname.lastname@example.org. A certain number of reservations will be taken and confirmed on a first-come-first-served basis, and after the confirmed singers have performed, the rest of the afternoon will be comprised of the rest of the crowd (for March it will be a waitlist, starting in April it will be by random drawing). The singers will have a moment or two to confer with Toroian over their sheet music, while Sue does emcee duties, discussing the singer's past work and upcoming dates, then the singer will do their number (hopefully to their satisfaction) and return to their mimosas, making way for the next performer. It's an easy enough process, one that Sue and Gregory are working very hard to make sure everyone feels treated fairly and feels visible. It's an admirable task that they have taken on, and a wonderful venture for all who care to participate. The afternoon will feature one solo by Sue and one by the Toroian trio, as well as a set from one or two invited guests. Last Saturday the crowd had the incredible pleasure of hearing dreamy Dorian Woodruff perform a set of three standards, "Falling in Love With Love," "Something to Live For" and Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing," which (in a word) slayed. After Mr. Woodruff's set, Gretchen Reinhagen was invited to do her comedic version of "Stormy Monday," which laid them in the aisles, no surprise there. After these two cabaret artisans had their special guest segments, the open mic portion of the day commenced and it was one enjoyable experience after another, as singers we knew reminded us why we love them, and singers we didn't know gave us a reason to get to know them. The afternoon proved to be a great resource for upcoming scheduling for this guy because, after seeing Bruce Clough and Camille Diamond, I know whose shows I'm on the lookout for - truly, it's a great sample-platter of the artists and acts you should be checking out, a chance at learning the styles of folks like Debbie Kane Raymar, Maria Corsaro, Scott Raneri and Claudia Stack. On Saturday, though, with all the gorgeous talent and human camaraderie in that room, the highlight for this writer (aside from neophyte Susan Beishel discovering the power of love from the cabaret community) was seeing people react to Joanne Halev. A freshman in the industry, Halev debuted her first show last summer - there are those who still have not discovered her, and watching the room draw to a complete hush during her entire performance of "Blackberry Winter," with her rich alto voice and expressive eyes, is the kind of moment a cabaret journalist wishes for at every show. Later that day there were a handful of people looking online to see when her next performance of LIKE A PERFUMED WOMAN is going to happen.
As earlier stated, I had to leave after the first ninety minutes, and it hurt, because I really wanted to stay and hear more, see more, and learn more - but the hour and a half I spent at the Pangea Jazz Brunch Open Mic was enough to make this guy plan on going back whenever it's possible. What Sue Matsuki and Gregory Toroian are creating here is a fun and friendly experience where people can relax, free of worry, sing their song, and then have a plate of eggs benedict with a bloody Mary - what could be better? A word to the wise: singers, Sue is a great emcee who spends the whole of the show with her focus going in a thousand different directions. She admitted on Saturday that she is not great with the names, so when you fill out your information sheet at the club, print your name clearly, and then say it to her face, clearly, so that she knows how you pronounce yourself -- it will help you and her avoid any embarrassment when it's your turn up at bat. In the meantime, get a reservation, pick out a tune and go sing for your supper.. Or, rather, your brunch.
Pangea Jazz Brunch Open Mic is the third Saturday of every month. Read about it and get reservations by visiting the Pangea website
I apologize for the lack of photo of Gregory Toroian - the room was so full that getting a good shot of the maestro simply was not possible.
Photos by Stephen MosherKati Neiheisel