by Martha Wade Steketee
July 25, 2017 really is the 87th birthday of Annie Ross and marks the 11th year of regular appearances at the venue by this actress and jazz musician. The celebratory vibe at the Metropolitan Room this fine summer evening is deep and buzzy—Ms. Ross hasn’t been performing lately and we all want to welcome her back to the stage and raise a glass to her legacy. Tardo Hammer at the piano, Warren Vaché on cornet, Leroy Williams on drums, and Neil Miner on bass celebrate her with us, and the star of the show is our one and only, Lily Mars’ sister, Annie Ross.
A big crowd fills the intimate Metropolitan Room, clearly familiars, all heeded the call to mark this passage. While Annie notes “we really didn’t plan,” the night is kicked off with her 1952 hit “Twisted”—a satire of psychoanalysis (“two heads are better than one”) covered by singers from Bette Midler to Joni Mitchell. The tongue-twisting lyrics underscore the fact that Annie’s delivery may have reached the latter years Mabel Mercer stage, where we’re there for phrasing and syncopation and not vocal pyrotechnics. And that’s just fine with us—Annie telling a story in song, enjoying the heck out of her musician pals, reacting with fondness to the appreciation from her audience is reason enough to celebrate with her.
Annie plays with the vocal line of “The Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin) with wit—she vocally creates chords masterfully—and her musicians have fun playing around the edges of the romantic popular song. “I’m Scottish, but this is English,” Annie reminds us. And we all feel the rosy recollections of a time gone by.
We get verses in this set, which always delights me. Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” begins with a feminist shout out: “As Dorothy Parker once said to her boyfriend, fare thee well.” The whole room slowly rocked with musicians and their deconstructed, jazzy arrangement of this ode to moving on from a love affair.
“Lazy Afternoon” (Jerome Moross and John La Touche) from the 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple, takes us on a rich, slow, lyrical visit to a country hangout. Each word of the lyric is punctuated splendidly—Fat. Pink. Cloud. And we’re held in abeyance, not in New York, not in our cabaret seats, but in the world Annie and her musicians have conjured for us.
There’s a tune that seems to be an ode to “sweet marijuana” and one of the most deliciously slowed down versions of “I Got Rhythm” (George and Ira Gershwin) that I’ve ever heard, with a devastatingly gorgeous cornet solo I’d return to hear again. For the finale, the kitchen served up platters of meatballs to celebrate Annie’s silly delivery of the jazz novelty tune “One Meat Ball.”
We come to celebrate her, and she feeds us with humor, melody, and meatballs. What a lovely evening.
Annie Ross. Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). www.metropolitanroom.com