The Cabaret Chronicles: Ann Hampton Callaway, Pamela Luss, Justin Ritchie and More!
Happy Sunday, everyone! I'm just winding down from a great week of live music, and am looking forward to beginning another one! I kicked off last week with my own show, Jenna Esposito Sings Connie Francis, which was performed at The Metropolitan Room last Sunday, in honor of Valentine's Day. My band and I had a terrific time, and there were lots of happy couples in the audience, so our mission was accomplished!
On Tuesday evening, it was off to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, which is part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, to hear Ann Hampton Callaway in Ann Hampton Callaway Swings the Great American Songbook. Joined by the stellar trio of Ted Rosenthal on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Willie Jones III on drums, Ms. Callaway not only swung the Great American Songbook, but brought her incomparable vocals, sparkling wit, easy humor, and unique interpretations to each and every number she performed. The song selection was superb; the material varied from well-loved standards such as "I'm Beginning To See the Light" and "That Old Black Magic" to lesser-performed gems like Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster's hauntingly beautiful "A Time For Love." For all of the "single and bitter" people in the room, she offered up a touching "You Don't Know What Love Is," which she followed up with a swinging "Just One of Those Things." In addition to her lush vocals and impressive scat solos, Ms. Callaway also showed off some other talents - improvised vocal solos that mimicked both a trumpet and a saxophone (not at the same time!). Now, I've heard many people perform "vocal trumpet" solos, and Ms. Callaway does it better than most, but the "vocal sax" solo had me floored! Though there are many things to love, to me, one of the best things about seeing Ms. Callaway live is the fun she has playing with her audience. Some of her off-the-cuff comments and interjections had me laughing so hard that my cheeks hurt! The rapport she builds with her audience by the end of a show is nothing short of remarkable, and when the lights come up, there is rarely a face without a smile. Adding to the magic of this particular night was the club itself, which is a gorgeous room on the fifth floor of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. It is one of my favorite rooms in the city in which to see a show, because behind the stage is a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows which afford the audience a magnificent view of Central Park. This past Tuesday, it was all the more enchanting due to the freshly-fallen snow covering the park - it looked like something out of a fairy tale, not the gritty NYC I'm used to. Combined with the wonderful music emanating from the stage, it truly made for one of my favorite nights in recent memory.
Thursday evening found me at Don't Tell Mama to see Michelle Collier in her debut cabaret show, A Tribute to the Hollywood Blondes. Backed by musical director Rick Jensen on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Fred Kennedy on drums, the delightfully bubbly Ms. Collier wove in some fun and little-known anecdotes while introducing us to the songs performed by her favorite fair-haired leading ladies. A trained dancer, Ms. Collier also included several dance solos, definitely an appropriate decision when one is paying tribute to such ladies as Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable. One of my favorite songs of the night came in the tribute to another Betty - Betty Hutton! Ms. Collier's performance of "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry," was a comic gem, and again, her dance background came in handy as she tried to show what she'd learned from Mr. Murray. A less-expected (but no less charming!) homage was that to Olivia Newton-John, in the form of a wistful "Hopelessly Devoted to You." Overall, it was a fun, engaging show, performed by a talented young woman who will hopefully make a return to the cabaret stage soon!
Friday evening, I headed to The Metropolitan Room for cabaret/jazz chanteuse Pamela Luss in "Swinging the 60s - from Rock to the Ratpack." Introduced by pop/jazz scholar Will Friedwald and accompanied by a terrific quintet (led by musical director John di Martino on piano), Ms. Luss did, indeed swing her way through this lush musical decade, including songs that ranged from "Moon River" to "Light My Fire" (which was performed a la "Fever," with that famous, infectious bass line!), to "The Age of Aquarius" to "Blowing In The Wind," and in a fun, playful departure from the expected, she performed the theme song to "Bewitched" (who knew that there were words?!). Swinging, singing, and decked out in a fabulous hot pink minidress, Ms. Luss breathed new life into the material, letting the audience hear some of their favorite songs anew, with a jazzy flair. With her cheery, charming persona and captivating stage presence, Ms. Luss provided a terrific jump start to the weekend!
On Saturday evening, I was back at The Metropolitan Room to catch Washington D.C. - based performer Justin Ritchie in his NYC debut, On My Way Here. The show was a celebration of Mr. Ritchie's travels through life, both literal (he grew up as a Navy brat) and not-so-literal. What came through more than anything is a young man who is happy with where he is in life - physically and emotionally. He knows who he is, he's proud of it, and he is showing it in the way he loves best - through song. Including songs from the familiar (Dolly Parton's "Travelin' Through," Johnny Burke & Jimmy Van Heusen's gorgeous "But Beautiful") to the obscure (Steven Lutvak's catchy and engaging "Mrs. Whitney Taught Me The Piano, Mark Schultz's "Remember Me," musical director Rick Jensen's "Harbor"), Mr. Ritchie lent his warm, smooth, powerful voice - as well as a heartfelt rendering of the lyrics - to each and every song. Musical director Rick Jensen provided top-notch accompaniment, and kudos, too, must go to Mr. Ritchie's director, Lina Koutrakos. It was a lovely way to start the evening, and one can only hope that Mr. Ritchie makes a return trip to the big apple very soon!
Later that evening, for a taste of something different, I went to hear the Lipbone Redding and the Lipbone Orchestra at BXL, a Belgian bar on the East side of Manhattan. Featuring Lipbone, himself, on guitar and "voicestrumentals" (like the aforementioned Ann Hampton Callaway, Mr. Redding does a superb job of mimicking instruments using his voice - and sometimes a wine glass for a mute!), Jeff Eyrich on bass, and Rich Zukor on drums, the "orchestra" put on a heck of an entertaining evening. Part rock, part New Orleans blues/swing, and entirely engaging, The Lipbone Orchestra truly provided a fantastic night of music. Although they included a few covers, the tunes were mostly originals, and it is a testament to both Mr. Redding's songwriting and the performance of the songs that they were able to quiet a packed bar on a Saturday night. The Lipbone Orchestra has a number of steady gigs around the NYC area - for more information, pay a visit to www.lipbone.com.
That's about all I managed to squeeze in this week, but check back next week for a brand new article!
Where I'm Going This Week...
TONIGHT - Sunday, February 21: Salon at Etcetera, Etctera. Formerly the Algonquin Salon, this classy open mic, hosted by Mark Janas, has packed up and moved to the West Side of 44th Street for a semi-regular Sunday night soiree. As always, there is a guest co-host (this evening it's the dapper and talented Joe Bachana) and a guest star (the lovely Barbara Porteus, who will be performing a 3-song set), and there are sure to be all kinds of talented folks taking the mic. Salon runs from 7:00 - 10:30, but be sure to arrive early to sign up if you wish to perform!
Wednesday, February 24th: Jazz vibraphonist Chris Dingman in his latest project, "Waking Dreams" at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Mr. Dingman will be joined by Aidan Carroll on bass, Mark Small on tenor sax (and other assorted instruments), Tommy Crane on drums, and special guest Kaoru Wantanabe, and I'm really looking forward to hearing some great music in my own neighborhood!
Thursday, February 25th: 6:30 p.m. - MAC New Face Showcase at The Triad. Yes, it's that time of year again. The preliminary ballots for the MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards are in the mail, and in order to give debut artists a chance to showcase their talents, MAC has invited them to participate in a showcase. Half of the debut artists that appear on the preliminary ballot will be featured this week, and half will be featured next week. For more information about MAC, you can visit www.macnyc.com.
8:30 p.m. - Marquee Five in We Can Make It: The Songs of Kander & Ebb at Don't Tell Mama. Featuring the talents of vocalists Mick Bleyer, Adam West Hemming, Vanessa Parvin, Sierra Rein, and Julie Reyburn, this show has been praised for its tight harmonies, clever arrangements, and terrific vocals - I'm really looking forward to catching it!
Pictured: Ann Hampton Callaway