By Ron Fassler . . .

Among a few of my favorite things, besides raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, is when a composer sings their own songs. My admiration can range from a Billy Joel or an Elton John, but also to non-pros from the old days like Frank Loesser and Alan Jay Lerner, who proved unusually adept at performing their own works. It’s not easy to find recordings to hear them sing, but when you do, it’s extremely worthwhile. With David Yazbek, a fine composer/lyricist with five Broadway musicals to his credit, you don’t have to look too hard. He’s released as many rock albums as he has original cast recordings, with five rock albums that feature him at the piano pounding out a wide range of his compositions. He performs with a hard driving and infectious musicianship that, in an intimate club like 54 Below, gives him a perfect setting with which to showcase his work amidst a merry band of musicians, currently going by the name of the Bludegeoneers (in other concerts, I’ve heard him call them names designed to have you rolling on the floor with laughter).

One thing is for sure; the man is versatile. Consider the scores to The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Band’s Visit and Tootsie, none of which are cookie-cutter, showcasing unique sounds all their own. The only thing that connects them is Yazbek’s propensity for tongue-twisting lyrics and an ability to conjure luscious imagery. Who can “forget the honey in my ears, spice in my mouth” from his “Omar Sharif,” sung delectably by Katrina Lenk in The Band’s Visit? At 54 Below, Yazbek sang that one himself and sold it quite convincingly. That’s not to say his words aren’t often hilariously funny, such as when in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, he rhymed “Oklahoma” with “melanoma.”

His musicians gathered were in a word: awesome. Featuring Sam Sadigursky on multiple reeds, his stirring clarinet and sax solos were among the evening’s highlights. For the last three songs, two additional horn players, Paul Vercesi and Tony Orbach, arriving late from another gig, tore the roof off the place when, along with Sadigursky, jammed on “Montgomery, Alabama,” a new Yazbek song. Javier Diaz (percussion), Dean Sharenow (drums) and Chris Tordini (bass) rounded out the group, all playing with infectious joy.

The evening had a fair number of new tunes, which made for a great mix with more familiar ones. Special guest Norbert Leo Butz, a Tony winner for his Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, first enticed the audience with “Madrid” from Women on the Verge, which he delivered with his customary dazzle. What a voice this guy has! Then he did a bit of his Freddy, with Yazbek chiming in as Lawrence, with a wicked rendition of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels title tune. Too much fun!

The casualness with which Yazbek hosted had him riffing an impromptu battle with an extremely limp mic (“it has erectile dysfunction!”) to asking the band off-handedly “would you guys start a groove because I don’t know how I want to get into this.” He also took to the piano with a heavy foot and paws for hands, so much so it might be a solid idea to have the tuner pay a visit immediately. I jest, but honestly, I came away with the feeling that I would pay good money to hear a night of Yazbek simply doodling on the keys, as when he improvised in the moment with an original song that combined elements of Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

David Yazbek is no stranger to 54 Below. One thing is for sure: the party is on! The next time he and his musicians are advertised, it would be well worth your time to pay this band a visit.

David Yazbek and The Bludgeoneers were at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway (

Photos: Stephen Sorokoff

(Featured Image: David Yazbek and Norbert Leo Butz)