By Joel Benjamin
Every song is an adventure for pianist/singer Barbara Carroll and her longtime musical collaborator Jay Leonhart, bassist extraordinaire, a journey into her musical imagination and her life. At an age when most people are playing bridge in their condos in Florida, she is continuing her exploration of the American Songbook for all it’s worth, always coming up with insights and beauty. And they do it weekly at Birdland!
She and Mr. Leonhart share a jaunty camaraderie. They play off each other as if they were a mind-reading act, breathtakingly altering keys, rhythms and melodies like a flock of birds simultaneously changing direction in flight. Also special about Ms. Carroll is her ability to combine her extensive knowledge of classical music with her equally large library of theater, jazz and pop songs, producing a seamless expression that is fresh and exciting. She might seem to be playing a Bach etude but from it emerges “It Had to Be You” (Isham Jones/Gus Kahn), a version that never quite manages to be happy, segueing into a haunting “I Wonder What Became of Me” with a stop at “Blues In the Night” (the latter two, Arlen/Mercer).
Her opening number was “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Berlin) which she wove out of many tiny classical music elements. There was an intake of breath in the audience when the song suddenly emerged. “I’m a Fool to Want You” (Sinatra/Wolf/Herron) floated by on a Debussy-esque magic carpet while her “You Fascinate Me So” (Coleman/Leigh) so pleased her and Mr. Leonhart, that she took childlike pleasure in repeating the last few bars.
Because it was Mr. Leonhart’s birthday, she managed to slyly allude to “Happy Birthday” in several numbers, to his surprise. He was in top form, scatting, harmonizing with his voice and squeezing every color from his bass fiddle as he plucked and bowed it, always with his eyes and ears on Ms. Carroll. There was a tribute to Count Basie with his melodies set against a steady left-hand bass strutting tempo and also an absolutely charming “How About You” (Burton Lane/Ralph Freed).
The Gershwins were honored by her “How Long Has This Been Going On” (complete with its lovely verse) and “Our Love is Here to Stay” all peppered with divine references to George’s classical pieces.
There was real love and respect in the way they played and sang Sondheim’s “Old Friend,” here gaining the gravity that only age and experience can allow.
They ended with a lightly rollicking “Have You Met Miss Jones” (Rodgers & Hart).
The Barbara Carroll Duo will be appearing at Birdland every Saturday through January 25th. DON’T MISS THEM!
The Barbara Carroll Duo with Jay Leonhart
Saturdays through January 25, 2015
315 West 44th St. between 8th & 9th Aves.
New York, NY
Reservations: 212-581-3080 or www.birdlandjazz.com
More Information: www.barbaracarrolljazz.com