The Cabaret Chronicles: Chubby Checker, Joe Bachana, and More!

By: Mar. 28, 2010

Wow, what a week it's been!  My nightlife travels started out with a bang at last Sunday's Salon at Etcetera, Etcetera Restaurant.  Salon founder and host Mark Janas always gets a great lineup of talent at this classy open mic, and this week was no different!  The guest co-host for the week was Steve Herbst, who is best known for his whistling (he's in the Whistling Hall of Fame!), also showcased his singing voice in his opening number, "Stars."  Other talented folks to take the stage included singer/pianist Bill Zeffiro, who treated us to a great "Home Sweet Heaven," Gretchen Reinhagen, who did a great "Maybe This Time," Sierra Rein, who delighted the crowd with a terrific "On Such A Night As This," and Matthew Ward, who tickled the ivories with a beautiful "Rustle of Spring."  

On Monday night, I headed over to Feinstein's at the Regency for my own show!  It was my debut at this beautiful, sophisticated room, and I had a ball!  Patsy's Italian Restaurant (Frank Sinatra's favorite!) presented me there, and the menu featured all Patsy's dishes - yum!  In honor of the occasion, the show I did, That's Amore: Jenna Sings Love, Italian Style, was a celebration of some of Patsy's most famous patrons: Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Connie Francis, and (of course!) Frank Sinatra!  It was a really special evening, and I had the time of my life!  Afterwards, I continued the celebration by heading over to Birdland for the last hour or so of Jim Caruso's Cast Party, which was as entertaining as ever!  Although I missed the first part, I still got there in time to catch some stellar performers like Ray Jessel, Christine Lavin, Hilary Kole, Rob Langeder, and Terese Genecco.  Filling in for Tedd Firth at the piano was the terrifically talented Andy Ezrin, who was joined by Steve Doyle on bass and Dustin Jensen on drums.  All in all, a splendid night! 

Wednesday evening, it was off to The Metropolitan Room for Joe Bachana in his show Midnight Masquerade: The Music of Bernie Bierman and Jack Manus.  Alive and well at 101.5 years of age, Bernie Bierman is one of the Great American Songbook's greatest treasures.  His songs have been performed and recorded by the likes of Don Cherry, Frankie Laine, Eddy Howard, Sammy Kaye Harry James, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra, and he continues to write to this day!  Mr. Bachana's show featured songs that were written over a period of about seven years in the 1940's.  After returning home from serving in World War II, Bernie decided to leave the security of his former career as an attorney and try his hand at songwriting - a lucky thing for us!  Of the songs in the show, six were solo compositions by Bierman; the remainder were collaborations with his partner, Jack Manus, and sometimes a third writer.  The music brought to mind a simpler, happier time, and it was easy to imagine, for a moment or two, that I'd traveled back in time 65 years or so, and was hearing these songs for the first time at some sophisticated little nightclub.  Adding to the illusion was the fact that Mr. Bachana and the fantastic five-piece band (helmed by musical director Barry Levitt on the piano) were in tuxedos - something which rarely happens for a Wednesday evening cabaret show these days!  Guest stars Steve Ross and Valerie DiLorenzo both did terrific jobs on their songs, and as an extra-special treat, Bernie Bierman himself sat down at the piano and delighted the crowd by accompanying himself on two solo numbers!  It was a truly special evening - kudos to Mr. Bachana for this delightful tribute to one of America's greatest living treasures. 

On Thursday night, I headed back to Feinstein's at Loews Regency for the legendary Chubby Checker, who was absolutely incredible!  At 68 years of age, he looks, sounds, and dances like he's a good 30 or 40 years younger!  Backed by a rockin' band and two backup vocalists, Chubby delivered a high-octane hour of hits (both his own and some covers) including "Pony Time," "The Hucklebuck," "Blueberry Hill," and, of course, "The Twist!"  Throughout the evening, Chubby pulled audience members up on stage to dance with him, and it was wonderful to see the genuine joy and excitement on their faces as they danced alongside the legend!  By the end of the show, nearly the entire audience was on its feet, twisting and singing and having an all-around wonderful time!  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and a terrific way to wrap up my week of show-going! 

Where I'm Going This Week...  

TONIGHT - Sunday, March 28thTony DeSare at Bemelmans Bar.  One of my favorite performers at one of my favorite venues - the classy Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.  Tony plays from 8:30 - 11:30 p.m. tonight, and will be joined by Steve Doyle on bass and Ed Decker on guitar.   

Monday, March 29th: Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland.  This fantastic weekly open mic runs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. but again, make sure to arrive early to sign up if you want to sing!   

Wednesday, March 31st: 7:30 p.m. - Sean Harkness at The Metropolitan Room.  Windham Hill recording artist and guitarist extraordinaire Sean Harkness is performing a rare solo show - I, for one, can't wait to see it! 

9:15 p.m. - Ray Jessel at Don't Tell Mama.  At 80 years old, Ray Jessel has more wit than most people half his age!  His songs run the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-jerking ballads.  He spends most of the year in L.A., so whenever he makes it back to NYC, I try to catch him at least once during his run (this will be my second time this spring)!

Pictured: Chubby Checker