The Cabaret Convention Continues – Evening #2
by: Alix Cohen
Lyricist Sammy Cahn (Samuel Cohen) and composer Jimmy Van Heusen (Edward Chester Babcock) were both born in 1913. At 16, Babcock changed his name-after the shirt company Phillips Van Heusen, while Cahn listened to his first song performed on the vaudeville circuit. Both were writing. There was no question as to what the teenagers would do with their lives. Brought together by Frank Sinatra in the early fifties, Cahn and Van Heusen created a long list of iconic numbers, many for Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. Both were more successful at the hit parade and in Hollywood than on Broadway though together (Skyscraper and Walking Happy) and apart, they tried.
“It’s said,” Host Bill Boggs tells us, “Frank Sinatra spent his days with Sammy and his nights with Jimmy.” Boggs knew Cahn, describing him as a man with wit, poetry and a sense of honor. Asked what the prolific movie theme writer would pen for a theme to The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, Cahn quipped: The Russians Are Coming/The Russians Are Coming/Love me tonight!” In his book: Frank The Voice, James Kaplan wrote “Jimmy …had a fat wallet, flew his own plane; and never went home alone.” ‘An interesting combination of characters.
This was, alas, a disappointing evening. Too many contributing vocalists had no sense of the rhythm and attitude driving this music and these lyrics. In many cases choices were less tuneful and entertaining than others might’ve been and perhaps more difficult for vocalists to grasp. Introductions were not smooth. One longed for a little history and more anecdotes of which many exist.
Youthful band, Sammy & the Congregation, opened with a cheery “High Hopes” from the 1959 Sinatra film “A Hole in the Head.” Though it was good to see another generation onstage, the arrangement in no way reflected its authors. Musically precocious Nicolas King followed with “Come Fly With Me”/ “Come Dance With Me.” King was part way there with these. Gestures and swing turns indicate the performer’s study of and affection for this period. A certain experiential gravitas is still missing to achieve insouciance.
Highlights of the evening:
Rebecca Kilgore’s rendition of two selections from The Marilyn Monroe/Yves Montand film Let’s Make Love, its title song and “Incurably Romantic,” were like home made whipped cream- light, but rich, smooth, and soft-edged. Kilgore’s economy of movement and clarity of voice rode lovely arrangements by Jon Weber (at the piano) with able assistance from the cool Harry Allen on Saxophone. Phrasing was deft, flirty, and jazz colored.
Billy Stritch followed by, and in duet with “the incomparable” (It might actually say this on her driver’s license) Marilyn Maye, provided a happy jolt to the evening. Stritch’s easy, swing “Teach Me Tonight” made it seem as if the piano was swiveling its hips. Maye’s two numbers included “Star” for which Sammy Cahn was in the studio during her 1965 recording session and “Here’s That Rainy Day,” Johnny Carson’s favorite. The lady hasn’t dropped a stitch of her impeccable style. A duet of “Walkin’ Happy” was top notch and entirely infectious.
Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano offered three songs apart and together. First, Comstock rendered a crisp and lively “I Like To Lead When I Dance.” “And you know, he really does,” commented Fasano joining her husband onstage. Fasano’s interpretation of “All My Tomorrows” showcased elongated notes that vibrate towards the end somewhere short of vibrato. These give the song a sighing, wistful feel. A second verse signals gentle swing with jazz phrasing.
Terese Genecco, who is a master at this material was, alas, given only “Ain’t That a Kick In the Head.” It’s just possible no contemporary vocalist does it better. Genecco is brassy and bright, bends into the melody and swings out with flair. She performs like a stallion in its natural environment. Bill Zeffiro, piano. Mark J. Miller, trombone.
Stacy Sullivan brought warmth and intimacy to the unmelodic “Life is For Living,” connecting with the audience under less than ideal circumstances. Jon Weber, piano. Jennifer Sheehan’s hushed “The Last Dance” seemed like a single candle in a dark room. Jon Weber, piano.
A suite from the authors’ 1955 television musical of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (performed only that once at Wilder’s stipulation) was adroitly arranged by Bill Zeffiro (at the piano) and offered by vocalists Sigali Hamburger, Marissa Mulder, and Nick Ziobro. Five songs delivered a real sense of the play. Its singers were eloquently still and, when appropriate, ingenuous, performing unfussy renditions with lilting vocals, sincerity, and grace. It was, to me, a successful translation. Whether or not it belonged in this evening of cabaret even with its somewhat evolving form, is entirely another question. The well produced and performed segment acted like a bump in the road, if one is to judge by audience reaction.
Prolific author, reviewer, and producer Will Friedwald introduced veteran Jack Jones as the “the last piece of the true cross; the youngest of the generation for whom these songs were written.” This year’s winner of The Mabel Mercer Award did not take the podium with thanks.The entertainer offered five numbers including “Call Me Irresponsible” which he was apparently asked to record despite being in direct competition with Frank Sinatra’s hit record. The artist also reminisced. Arrangements were spot on to song and performer alike. Mike Renzi, piano
Also Featuring: Shana Farr, Tony DeSare, Natalie Douglas, Nellie McKay, Molly Pope, Alan Harris.
**Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Come Fly With Me: The Songs of Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen
Underwritten by Eleanor and Howard Morgan
Host Bill Boggs
Curated by Will Friedwald
With Sammy Miller & The Congregation: Luke Selleck, Adam Mozina,
Alfonzo Horn, Jordan Pettay, Sammy Miller
The Mabel Mercer Foundation 24th New York Cabaret Convention
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
October 8, 2013