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Loren Schoenberg -- Reviews

Keepers of the Flame Pay Tribute to an Original
From the New York Times, November 16, 2005

If any cabaret entertainer could be named the artistic heir to the irreplaceable Bobby Short, the most likely candidate is probably Michael Feinstein, the singer, pianist and musical archivist, who is so busy he sometimes seems to be performing on several New York stages at once.

Fundamental differences make that lineage far from obvious. Mr. Short, who died in March, was African-American, and Mr. Feinstein is Jewish. Mr. Short was a hi-de-ho jazz entertainer who worshiped Duke Ellington, while Mr. Feinstein kneels at the altar of George Gershwin. One crowed; the other croons.

Because of their shared passion for the preservation of classic American pop, however, it made sense that Mr. Feinstein should preside as host of "A Celebration of Bobby Short" on Monday evening at the club that bears his name, Feinstein's at the Regency. Many of the same people who gathered six months ago at the Cafe Carlyle for a similar tribute converged again for a concert and a dinner whose dessert consisted of miniature fruit-filled chocolate grand pianos.

The show began with the kind of touch for which Mr. Feinstein is well known: the unearthing of an extremely obscure 1940 recording of Mr. Short singing a bluesy number whose origins Mr. Feinstein said were unclear. As the show got under way, a superb house band led by the tenor saxophonist Loren Schoenberg buoyed strong performances by a carefully chosen list of musical guests. It was Mr. Schoenberg who put together the small swing band that accompanied Mr. Short during his last years at the Carlyle. And he recalled how Mr. Short, whose dream it was to have a full band backing him, paid the musicians out of his own pocket.

Some highlights: Barbara Carroll, lifted by the excellent rhythm section, skipped happily through Cole Porter's "Looking at You." Mary Cleere Haran found a lovely balance between pensiveness and joy in "It Had to Be You." The jazz impresario George Wein, accompanying himself on piano, growled "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" in the scratchy voice of an old blues singer. Julie Wilson, flinging her arms and acting up a storm, infused "From This Moment On" with a wild exuberance.

The pianist Bill Charlap reduced the room to a hush with an exquisite Bill Evans-flavored rendition of the Gershwin-Irving Caesar song "I Was So Young (You Were So Beautiful)." In the evening's emotional high point, Mr. Charlap's mother, Sandy Stewart, sang a throbbing, dramatically shaded rendition of Porter's "After You," in seemingly telepathic communication with her son.

By the end of this graceful, loving tribute, produced by John Schreiber, the torch had been passed.

-- Stephen Holden

 

 

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