CD Review by Marilyn Lester . . .
A career retrospective when you’re not even 30 years old? Well, yes—if you’ve been performing professionally since age four and your name is Nicolas King. Act One: Celebrating 25 Years of Recordings (on the Club44 Record label) is a remarkable release, both because it is a piece of show-biz history and because it chronicles the musical evolution of a star performer. King’s aunt, Angela Bacari is not only a sought-after vocal coach, but her guidance was augmented by teachers such as godmother Liza Minnelli and his long-time music director, pianist-arranger Mike Renzi. Their mentoring shows, but then again, they had the material to work with. Even as a tot, King’s love of singing and performing shines through.
Born of the pandemic and it’s “time on my hands” state of being, King put together 17 tracks that represent a journey he considers the end of childhood and the launch into the next act of his career as an adult. The result is a compilation of new studio tracks, selections from previous solo albums, and archival numbers.
The listener’s first encounter with King as a youth is the ten-year-old singing “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (Gus Kahn, Walter Donaldson), in a duet with Tom Selleck, taped onstage when they appeared together in A Thousand Clowns. Although the cuteness factor is high, and the tune is really Selleck’s, it’s not until “Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries (Ray Henderson, Lew Brown/”Nice ‘n’ Easy” (Lew Spence, Alan & Marilyn Bergman) that the 11-year old is front and center with an astounding understanding of vocal dynamics and showmanship. By age 15 he was arranging his own music—“How Deep Is the Ocean” (Irving Berlin). By age twenty, King emerges fully into his adult persona. In a duet with one of cabaret’s premier music directors and composers, Tracy Stark; “The Only One” (Tracy Stark) reveals King as a fully formed jazz singer with a command of scat that would have the great Ella Fitzgerald swinging in the aisles. For another original treat, “Looks Like They’re in Love,” recorded in 2016, showcases the award-winning team of Bob Levy and Alex Rybeck.
King reveals far more than just excellent technique. He’s on record as saying he likes the music of the American Songbook because the tunes tell stories. And a storyteller he is. For prime interpretive ability there’s “You Must Believe in Spring” (Michel Legrand, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Jacques Demy) rendered sensitively and with insight, matched by “What Matters Most” (Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Dave Grusin). Two duets newly recorded are both emotive and demonstrate wonderful musical chemistry with both artists: a delightful, string-backed “But Beautiful” (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen) with jazz diva Jane Monheit; and an especially magnificent rendition of “What A Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele-George David Weiss) with major talent Norm Lewis.
A clever final track, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin), the definitive anthem to the business of show, which King certainly embodies, opens with a few bars of the child Nicolas singing the tune before the about-to-be thirty-year old completes the deal. This rendition alone speaks volumes about King’s journey; but wait, there’s more. A bonus track, “Come Back to Me” (Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner) puts the cherry on the sundae. King flies through Lane’s zippy melody and Lerner’s clever lyrics with ease and a mastery of musicality from phrasing to interpretation. One can only wonder, what marvels will the next thirty years bring—and the next after that if nonagenarian icons such as Tony Bennett, Marilyn Maye, the late Julie Wilson and Sheila Jordan are anything to go by.
Act One: Celebrating 25 Years of Recordings, is now available in streaming and digital formats; a physical CD will follow on Friday, February 26.