(photos: Michael Wilhoite)
NY Cabaret Review: Marilyn Lester
What saloon singers know is that chatter inevitably happens, so the savvy ones, such as Tony DeSare, are able to perfectly tailor their shows to such venues. DeSare’s current outing at Bemelman’s Bar is long on music – with an equal share of vocals and instrumentation, and a bare minimum of patter. The result is a smartly crafted mix of songs ranging from jazz to pop to American Songbook standards, deftly arranged by DeSare. The over-arching outcome is a satisfying arc of musical moods that move with variety and balance from the beginning of the set to the end.
But DeSare is far more than a saloon singer. He’s also an award-winning pianist and composer with three top ten Billboard Jazz albums to his credit. He’s wondrously versatile. So are his two sidemen: Steve Doyle on double bass is a veteran of the jazz and cabaret scenes – he’s also a pianist and vocalist in his own right; Ed Decker on guitar is a composer and master of styles, with a concentration on jazz – he plays a seven string guitar in the Pizzarelli tradition. As a trio, the men play so seamlessly that when Doyle or Decker take their turns at solos, the transitions seem to happen by a magical ESP.
DeSare opened the first set with an upbeat, tone-setting “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” an evergreen 1929 tune (Andy Razaf, Don Redman). Later on, the trio performed Irving Berlin’s 100-year old “I Love a Piano” with fresh energy. The sweet ballad, “Dream Your Dreams,” sung early on in the evening, revealed the promise of other lesser-known, but spotlight-worthy, tunes to come; “Dream Your Dreams” was penned by British “housewife” Molly Drake, privately recorded in the 1950s, but unknown until after her death in 1993. In the ballad territory, DeSare sang “The Nearness of You,” (Hoagy Carmichael, Ned Washington) with a deeply personal flare (wife Daisy was in the audience).
Beside demonstrating a knowledge of an astonishing repertoire from which to choose, DeSare’s musicality is formidable. He’s comfortable in any genre. His delivery is smooth, confident, and often into the cool and laid back, with vocalizations most secure in the baritone range. DeSare showed some strain with the higher notes of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” yet like an idol of his, Frank Sinatra, it’s not so much about the richness of tone, than it is about phrasing and total musical mastery – a polish that’s enough to make glitches forgivable. Also drawing from the pop genre, the trio performed Prince’s “Kiss,” and two tunes from the Ray Charles canon: a blues take of “You Don’t Know Me” (Cindy Walker) and Charles’ R&B breakout hit, “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” written by Charles in 1956.
As a piano master, DeSare’s technique and skill were demonstrated in Lou Busch’s arrangement of “Saber Dance Boogie,” an energetic, boogie-woogie genre-bending riff on Aram Khachaturian’s classical “Saber Dance.” Jazz arrangements of “Just In Time” (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne), “Somebody Loves Me” (George Gershwin, Ballard MacDonald, Buddy DeSylva), and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (Cole Porter) breathed new life into these standard chestnuts.
Composer DeSare represented his own output with the clever and lively “New Orleans Tango,” a little reminiscent of “Hernando’s Hideaway”(Jerry Ross, Richard Adler) in its Latinized rhythms and canny lyrics, but not at all derivative. The second set closer, “Another Chance for My Heart” is an up-tempo tune Sinatra would have sent sky-high on the charts given a chance at it. Alas, Sinatra is no more, but the legacy, and so much more, is alive in Tony DeSare.
Tony DeSare at Bemelman’s Bar, Sundays 9 p.m. to midnight through March 8, 2015
The Carlyle Hotel, Madison Avenue at 76th Street, 212 744 1600 www.rosewoodhotels.com