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Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland

Billy Stritch Returns to Birdland in an Evening of Gorgeous Jazz

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland

Billy Stritch is best known as one of New York's premier jazz pianists and as "accompanist to the stars." His collaborations with Marilyn Maye, Liza Minnelli, Linda Lavin, Christine Ebersole, Paolo Szot, and other Broadway luminaries have produced albums, shows, and many magical evenings. His arrangements have been heard in cabaret rooms and concert halls around the world.

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland
Photo by Helane Blumfield

But the pandemic has been a time for Stritch to concentrate his attention on his solo career. He used the time to create Billy's Place, an online streaming party that airs each Thursday evening on Facebook. Billy Stritch is front and center on Billy's Place. He plays piano, sings, tells stories, and acts as host and raconteur. The online program proved so popular that his record company, 44 Records approached him about doing an album of songs he played on the air. The resulting album is also called BILLY'S PLACE.

Last night he celebrated the release of that album when he opened a new live show at Birdland with the Billy Stritch Trio. Birdland has been his performing home base for nearly 20 years and so it is only right they are featuring The Billy Stritch Trio on the main stage as part of their return to in-person performances. It is a joyful return for this world-famous jazz venue.

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland
Photo by Helane Blumfield

Billy Stritch has always embodied a suave elegance that evokes another era before tuxedos were replaced by ripped jeans and before cocktail hour was replaced by Netflix binges. His encyclopedic knowledge of The Great American Songbook is prodigious. He not only knows all the songs, he knows the history of them all. He is as stylish as the great pianists of that era: Oscar Peterson, Marion McPartland, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and Dave Grusin. He is the upholder of a tradition that includes Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Doris Day, and Mel Tormé.

His program tonight included songs by some of the biggest names in American songwriting. Barry Manilow, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart, Bobby Troup, John Latouche, Bruno Martino, Frank Loesser, Jimmy McHugh, Marvin Hamlisch, Dorothy Fields, and Sammy Cahn all were featured, as well as a couple of songs by Billy Stritch himself.

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland
Photo by Helane Blumfield

It would take more space than I have to enumerate each of the individual numbers here, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out some highlights. He opened his evening with "Meet Me, Midnight," an uptempo jazz number by Barry Manilow. I was particularly impressed with his beautiful reading of the standard, "Skylark." He gave poignance to "Planes" by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer-Sager. "They've Got a Lot of Coffee in Brazil" was a samba-flavored crowd pleaser. He gave us an exotic and beautiful medley of "A Lazy Afternoon" and Bruno Martino's "Estate." It was mysterious and ravishing. The centerpiece of the concert was a quartet of songs by Jimmy McHugh. His own song "Since You Left New York" was a heartbreaking love song written with Sandy Knox. And he ended the show with a brassy version of Sammy Cahn's "Teach Me Tonight."

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland
Photo by Helane Blumfield

Billy Stritch was supported by his hugely talented trio, Tom Hubbard and Mark McLean. They were particularly well featured on the Jimmy McHugh medley. One could not ask for two more gifted and sensitive side men. The three made an encore of Marvin Hamlisch's "Ordinary Miracles" with a lyric by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was an inspiring and rapturous finale to an evening of beautiful jazz. The Billy Stritch Trio has given us a wonderful reminder that Birdland is one of America's premier jazz clubs. We are lucky, indeed to have it back.

The Billy Stritch Trio plays two shows on Friday and Saturday evenings. To get tickets, go to birdlandjazz.com. To learn more about Billy Stritch, visit billystritch.com.

Photos by Helane Blumfield

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland

Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland Review: THE BILLY STRITCH TRIO Brings the Jazz Back at Birdland


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