BWW Review: SANDY STEWART, NICOLAS KING AND MIKE RENZI Light Up The Beach Cafe With Their Brilliance
The Crown Jewels were on display last night on the upper east side. There was a diamond, there was a ruby and there was an emerald, and all three shone as bright as the morning sun for the standing room only crowd at The Beach Cafe because these three priceless gems are the Crown Jewels of jazz.
In his introduction to the evening, Dave Goodside says that his restaurant cum cabaret is the most intimate room in the city, and he is not wrong. Literally the size of a living room (Well, somebody's living room) there is so little distance between the lip of the stage and the farthest seat that a singer actually needs no amplification during their set; when the performers are Sandy Stewart, Nicolas King, and Mike Renzi, a microphone is to the audience as a spoon is to Cambell's soup... when you want to get every last drop. In last night's evening of crooning, the ecstatic crowd hung on the artists' every word, every note (except for one drunk ol' boy trying to pick up every single woman at the bar) and that is because every word and every note was sublime transcendent perfection, which is exactly what a person would suspect from this trio.
Beginning their show with a little Carpenters ditty about singing, Ms. Stewart and Mr. King appeared in perfect sync, though it was a bit of a surprise to hear either or both noted jazz singers raising their voices in a pop song from the '70s, but the point was made when Stewart ended the song by blithely and benevolently commanding him "Nicolas... Sing" and with that Sandy Stewart took a shadowed seat on the stage and Nicolas King showed an awestruck audience why he is the best young male crooner in the business. With Stewart's tacit endorsement of his talent wafting up from the right of him, and Mr. Renzi's inestimable support rolling in from the left of him, Nicolas King sang a set of five songs during which audience members could be heard to say, repeatedly, "WOW." That was it, just "WOW" over and over again after each song. It is natural that people would be so impressed by King's abundance of skill if they were unfamiliar with his work history because their frame of reference is merely of a 28-year-old whose age belies his talent; little do they know that King has already spent 20 years in the business fine-honing his craft, and it shows in each prodigious moment he spends onstage. Effortlessly, this marvel of a man croons so smooth and low on songs like "I Remember You" that involuntary sighs emit from the lips of patrons besotted by the sound of his voice, patrons whose sighs turn to gasps and giggles when he begins an astonishing segment of scat-singing within a famed arrangement of "Pick Yourself Up" Fans of Sandy Stewart came out to The Beach Cafe to see their favorite jazz goddess and left with a new favorite - a jazz Divo; and never, last night did King appear more formidable than when standing stock-still and, with emotion and vocal power that belong on a Broadway stage, filling the room with a "What Did I Have That I Don't Have" of such enormity as to leave the audience heaving breath in a state of thrilled disbelief. WOW indeed.
Mr. King's set of five songs complete, Ms. Stewart was next up on the bill; except that when Mike Renzi is in the house, it would be a mistake of epic proportion to deny an audience the chance to hear a true "one and only" display the skills that caused the moniker to be cast his or her way - and it was with eyes wide and heads shaking in awe that the patrons of The Beach Cafe listened to one man turn a slightly out of tune piano into an orchestra while playing (the appropriate) "My Funny Valentine" in such a way that all would hear, indelibly, in their minds forever. Renzi is a gift to the music-making and music listening communities and not a soul who has heard him perform live would ever even consider thinking otherwise.
The singer's intermission over, it was time for Sandy Stewart, and the audience was ready. The venerated doyenne of the jazz industry is an interpretive genius with song and what better place for an audience of aficionados to revel in the majesty of her brilliance than in a small intimate setting where every nuance, each whisper, all the layers and colors of her voice and stylings can be enjoyed to maximum effect? Sandy Stewart is a flirtatious lady and she lets the audience into her personal space through a few casual conversations with Renzi, King, and the crowd, but when the story hour begins, Sandy Stewart is all about the journey. One of the great ladies of song, Ms. Stewart has an ability and mission statement as a performer that seems sadly lacking in some of the singers coming up through the ranks -- Sandy Stewart is able to drop, immediately, into the pocket of the song, both vocally and emotionally. There is a story that the composer and lyricist created for that song, and Ms. Stewart is determined to tell that story, to do the creators justice, and to bring that story to an audience, spellbound as though hearing "It Might As Well Be Spring" for the very first time. Ms. Stewart's musical analysis of each song last night was a master class in what happens when a vocalist (jazz or otherwise) is in absolute control of their instrument while in an unconditional state of knowledge of where the song, the story, and the singer are going. Having the privilege of watching Ms. Stewart in the intimate setting is where the real joy lies because it doesn't matter what room she graces with her presence, the voice will always be superlative, as will the storytelling, but in this setting, a person can get a close look at the relationship between Sandy Stewart and the music that has been her constant companion, lo, these many years. The expressiveness of her physicality, from the emotions washing over her face to the poise of her hands, gives a vision of a woman swimming in the music, enveloped by the warmth, comfort, and friendship it provides as it buoys her into a mystical place of personal euphoria. The music patron lucky enough to witness a proficient who tells a musical story with all the parts of their being is not likely to forget the experience.
Her set finished, Sandy Stewart welcomed her young protege back to the spotlight for one final duet; and with their one-man orchestra creating all the sounds that heaven allows, Ms. Stewart and Mr. King gave rise to one more round of collective sighs from the audience with "Getting to Know You" and "I'm Old Fashioned" before bidding a goodnight to a crowd sad that an evening of music sublime and spectacular could fly by so quickly. Rarities and treasures like The Crown Jewels are often showcased so one can always hold out hope that Sandy Stewart, Nicolas King, and Mike Renzi will be in the spotlight again, and soon, for more spectators with a wish to see the very best that the art of jazz has to offer.
Learn about the great shows at The Beach Cafe by visiting their website
Photos by Stephen Mosher