NY Cabaret Review: Elizabeth Ahlfors
Move over, Michael Bublé and Peter Cincotti, Tony DeSare is the man to watch. This talented singer/pianist has a new meticulously crafted show, Night Life, at 54 Below where he musically wanders through the “chill still of the night,” or as DeSare describes it, “an exploration of the darker hues of life and love.” As Willie Nelson, the song’s composer, sings, “Night life ain’t no good life, but it’s my life,” setting the blues mood for DeSare’s show.
With his early influences of jazz, standards and Frank Sinatra, Tony DeSare gets better and better, constantly refining his own signature unassuming style since the early days singing at the piano at Windows of the World at the World Trade Center. While he has learned from Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme, he brings new jazz twists and challenging arrangements to well-chosen standard or contemporary songs that he feels contemporary audiences can dig.
DeSare has the taste to use first-class, energetic, stylized musicians in his trio, guitarist Ed Decker, Steve Doyle on bass, and Michael Klopp on drums. For this show, he adds an old pal and ace pianist, Tedd Firth. Firth gives DeSare the chance to move in front of the piano to deliver a sophisticated opener by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, “Charade,” swinging lightly over a racing tempo. When he turns to a dimmed-lights mood in, “If I Fell in Love,” he comments that songwriter John Lennon revealed this was the first real ballad he ever wrote. DeSare delivers it with a slow innocent pace, underscored by Firth’s chords until the fire ignites and the tempo takes on speed.
Highpoints include Aram Khachaturian‘s fiery “Sabre Dance,” a complex, key-changing boogie-woogie spotlighting the energy of Doyle’s bass, Decker’s guitar and drummer Klopp as DeSare’s fingers work a lot of piano. Also notable, he joins Firth for a four-hand, nimble finger workout in Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train,” sharing the piano bench and building the espresso rich jazz rhythm. Another Strayhorn classic brings DeSare to the microphone for what he calls, “A true high art song,” the dark and secretive ballad, “Lush Life.” Behind him, Tedd Firth provides sensitive piano sophistication.
Ray Charles’ R&B, “You Don’t Know Me,” a hard swinging Cole Porter standard, “It’s All Right With Me,” and an original ballad, “Too Late to Say Goodnight,” are a few more examples showing the scope of DeSare’s interpretations. Currently, he’s working on music and lyrics for a new stage musical, Swing Sisters, based on an integrated all-female swing band during World War II.
Tony DeSare’s Night Life runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 5 (private booking on Oct. 2). At 54 Below, 254 W 54th Street Cellar, New York, NY 10019