Review: Alexis Cole Celebrated New York City at 54 Below

The celebrated jazz singer's I’LL TAKE NEW YORK: GREAT SONGS OF A GREAT CITY on May 21st was a love song to the city.

By: May. 28, 2024
Review: Alexis Cole Celebrated New York City at 54 Below
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On Tuesday May 21st at at 7 pm, Alexis Cole took us on a journey of songs celebrating New York City at 54 Below. I’LL TAKE NEW YORK: GREAT SONGS OF A GREAT CITY was a smooth, polished evening of intimate cabaret as Cole bounced from song to song, giving us a taste of classic songs performed expertly and interweaving personal stories throughout. She started concert off with a lovely a capella “That’s No Joke,” which contained the titular line “I’ll Take New York.” Partway through, she was joined by the evening’s accompaniment: David Finck on bass, her longtime collaborator Kenny Hassler on drums, and John DiMartino on piano. The occasion for the theme was a celebration of the fact that Cole finally was able to secure a spot in the affordable artist housing she’s been applying to for the last 15 years. That is indeed cause for celebration, and for taking a look at some of the very many lovely songs written about this fine city. Cole’s selection ranged from the ultra hits you can’t avoid doing in a show like this (Like “Autumn in New York”) to some hidden gems, like “Will You Still Be Mine?,” which Cole joked is an “apocalyptic jazz standard,” with lines like “When cabs don't drive around the park ... Will you still be mine?”

Cole is a masterful jazz singer, which she demonstrated on numbers like “Lullaby of Birdland,” where she scatted alongside a solo from bassist Finck. Each member of the band did a solo on that number, showcasing their individual talents. Cole’s technique of singing a capella or with just one instrument at a time backing her, which she did at several points throughout the show, worked wonderfully to highlight her own singing and the intricacies of the melodies she sang. The solos and different backing arrangements highlighted just how harmonious the entire band was when they did play all together. Cole’s connection with the music and with the audience was palpable.

One of my favorites of the night was a rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Manhattan,” which she sang in the manner it was originally intended to be sung, highlighting the humor in the lyrics without going over the top, a balance that’s difficult to strike. Cole provided just enough historical context to introduce the numbers she sang, explaining, for example, that the “Jitterbug Waltz” was named after a very popular dance style that originally was making fun of the awkward way white people danced, but turned into a full on craze, made popular at the historic Savoy, one of the first desegregated dance floors in the city. Cole and the band then performed a delightful mashup of “The Jitterbug Waltz” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” with more scatting by Cole. She made the clever, tongue-in-cheek lyric alteration: “Where else but this can you get a thrill... for just $50 to $100 plus a service charge.”

Towards the end of the show, Cole urged the audience to purchase one of her CDs if they felt moved. “If you buy a CD, think of it as a mini $20 artist grant [the artist] can put towards recording their next CD that no one’s going to listen to,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience. If you want to give Cole a $20 mini artist grant and hear some of her amazing vocals in your own living room, you can visit her store.

Cole took over the piano to perform “(Theme from) New York, New York,” which she also put her own spin on, singing it with the trepidation with which it was originally sung by Liza Minnelli, and the hope and uncertainty in the line, “Come on, come through, New York, New York.” The band played “Take the A Train” over Cole’s many thank yous, including to the entire staff at 54 Below for helping to make the concert go off without a hitch. Once the thank yous were out of the way, she joined in singing on the lyric, a final exhilarating note to end the night. In this unaffordable, often unforgiving city, it’s nice to know that there are still programs in place that help artists like Cole find affordable housing. Her appreciation and joy for the city was tangible, and made for a lovely evening, filled with lovely songs.

Learn more about Alexis Cole on her website.

Find more upcoming shows on 54 Below’s website.


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