by: Paulanne Simmons


Carole J. Bufford calls Birdland Jazz Party “an evening of Jazz and Blues standards with a killer quartet.” The only way to improve on this description would be to add that it’s hosted by a petite powerhouse with the energy of a dynamo and the voice of a grieving angel.

The weekly show, which is scheduled for six o’clock every Sunday, will be hosted by Bufford into September. On July 19, it featured musical director Ian Herman on piano, Gordon Au on trumpet, Phil Palombi on bass and Ray Marchica on drums. The evening also included guest performer Marissa Mulder.

Many of the songs Bufford sang, such as “You Came a Long Way From St. Louis” or the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” have been covered by a multitude of singers. But several of the songs will be forever associated with certain artists. Bufford was generous in her praise of others. She remembered listening over and over to Julie London’s version of Arthur Hamilton’s torch song, “Cry Me a River.” And she declared that Dinah Washington is her favorite singer.

Nevertheless, their is no doubt that Buford, while reflecting the influence of not only Julie London and Dinah Washington, but also Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone (among others), also makes every song her own. No matter how many times you’ve heard “St. James Infirmary Blues,” it’s still a revelation to hear Bufford’s interpretation.

Bufford knows how to belt and when to save her energy, because a little goes a long way. At times she gives voice to ragged or raging despair. But then humor breaks through with her impish and dazzling smile. Life goes on, and so does the music.

Bufford and Mulder did one duet, a saucy “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” before Bufford turned the stage over to Mulder, who set a slightly different tone with “The Very Thought of You” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” and made the audience hope she will be coming back soon.

Bufford gave her instrumentalists plenty of time to show off their talents, often letting Herman or Au riff on the melodies. Au’s brilliant “Two Deuces” solo was an impressive break in the singing.

Whether it’s boogie-woogie, the blues or a country standard like “Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You),” Bufford gives every song a style, a swing and a shine that is making fireworks on the cabaret scene. Prepare to be dazzled.

The Birdland Jazz Party continues on Sunday nights, July 26, Aug 9, 23, 30, Sept 6, 13. Birdland is on 315 West 44th St., New York, NY 10036. www.birdlandjazz.com