Jim Caruso, Billy Stritch and Klea Blackhurst Hit Refresh



by: Lisa Reitman-Dobi


Christmas and nostalgia go hand in glove. In truth, home for the holidays is our travel through time, wending along a gaily lit path scented with gingerbread, spiced rum, shopping along Fifth Avenue or Amazon, perhaps unwrapping ornaments as Bing croons through Pandora and the Yule log channel glows in high def. Adding a fresh and fabulous twist to tradition is no small feat. Enter: The Sixth Annual rendition of A Swinging Birdland Christmas! Here’s the sparkling antidote to this balmy holiday season.


Jim Caruso, Billy Stritch and Klea Blackhurst infuse a gamut of holiday classics with vitality, humor and inimitable style. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm shared the mic with a cheeky Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, It Happened in Sun Valley and, of course, Here Comes Suzie Snowflake. And you’ll hear the marvelous Texas Mall Homage as you’ve never heard it before. (This is quite likely) You might want to move on down there where the weather is…equally warm.


Steve Doyle on bass and Daniel Glass on drums round off an ensemble who read each other as though together for decades. Vibrant and engaging from start to finish, the show swings a broad program including Kay Thompson and Bing Crosby, Cher and Elvis, the latter two courtesy of a playful and versatile Caruso. And yes, he had all the moves.


From the heartwarming melodies that make us misty, to Billy Stritch’s top three quirky Christmas songs, the program had the kick-back comfort of watching them have a blast in a living room, taking for granted the best in polish and timing. Billy Stritch went from our heartstrings to our funnybones, reminiscent of a good friend who takes you from reminiscence to merriment over the same glass of wine. His voice and piano sport that signature ease, his arrangements seamlessly shifting from the sublime to sassy. Klea Blackhurst’s authenticity sparkled with wit and verve. Toss in a Hawaiian holiday tune with her ukulele, a tiny bugle and her titanic Ethel Merman declaring Silent Night! and you get part of the picture and wholly happy.


A Swinging Birdland Christmas! emanates a refreshed holiday spirit. This is Joy. The evening had a warmth and synergy that extended way beyond the stage.


People remark on what they see and hear at a show, but rarely on the talents that light the set and perfect the sound. But such apparent effortlessness belies top skills. With Robert Polanco on sound and light, A Swinging Birdland Christmas! is shown off to perfection.


Owner Gianni Valenti knows how to shape a welcoming, convivial club. On point in every way, Manager Alaina Gonzalez-White directs an attentive, cheerful staff, from front desk to servers. With excellent cuisine by Chef Amido Guzman and superb entertainment, A Swinging Birdland Christmas! is exactly what home for the holiday’s means: warmth, comfort, holiday nostalgia, great food and fun.


In attendance at last night’s opening performance, Marilyn Maye put it just so: “Three incredible talents. What a fabulous way to begin the Christmas Season!”


No White Christmas this year? Snow what? From holiday cheer to atmosphere, A Birdland Swinging Christmas! will kick up your holiday spirit. Dash down and see it!


A Swinging Birdland Christmas! runs for the remainder of the week, December 23, 24, and 25. Showtime is at 6:00. For more information, visit www.birdlandjazz.com

Photos: Kevin Alvey