When jazz singer-saxophone player Curtis Stigers takes the stage at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, your first thought might be, "This cat's too cool for the room." But Stigers makes you like him, both personally and musically. And, by the end of his show, he makes you feel like you're too cool for the room yourself.
Looking like a sleeker version of actor Bill Pullman, Stigers has got movie star charisma and the talent to back it up. He plays the sax with intensity and passion, plus he has a wide vocal range and a delicate way with a lyric. Frankly, compared to most instrumentalists, he's a damned good singer -- and his patter is pretty funny, too. But what really distinguishes him is that he brings his jazz sensibility to songs not usually associated with this genre of music. His tastes are eclectic, and so is his act; he'll riff on an Elvis Costello number just as readily as he'll tackle a Randy Newman song.
Backed by a sensational combo, Stigers fills the Oak Room with sweet sounds. He's also fun to watch -- his face is unusually expressive -- but he's not likely to look anywhere in your direction during the course of the show, and that's no matter where you sit. For some reason, Stigers sings to an imaginary spot on the wall in front of him, which hampers his ability to connect with the audience on more intimate terms. If he actually looked at people's faces while performing, he would electrify the crowd. As it is, he puts on a strong and entertaining show that continues its run at the Oak Room for the next three weeks.
Habitués of Don't Tell Mama's piano bar know Jennifer Pace as an earthy performer with a powerful and pleasing voice; but if you catch her cabaret act, you'll find substance and style beneath the tough-girl veneer.
Pace is a third generation music-maker. In her recent show at Mama's, she not only made generous references to her musician grandfather but also hired her dad -- a highly respected jazz pianist -- as her musical director. (This was real "pop" music!) The song selections reflected a cultured taste for the Great American Songbook, including such items as "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Stardust," and "After You've Gone."
From a gently understated performance of "Little Girl Blue" to a commanding rendition of "You're My Thrill," Pace demonstrated a keen ability to interpret a lyric. She put together an act that had the virtue of genuine personality, and that personality is a byproduct of her family history. Jennifer is clearly keeping Pace with the generations that preceded her.
[More reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com. For information on the First Annual Nightlife Awards, to be co-presented by Scott Siegel on January 27 at The Town Hall, click here.]