Career longevity isn't a guarantee of talent, but it's an awfully strong indicator. Upon arriving at Arci's Place for Buddy Greco's opening night, we soon learned that this was his 51st year in show business. We also learned that his 63rd album had just been released. Talk about longevity! Talk about strong indicators of talent!. Then Greco settled the matter with a show full of sparkling jazz piano arrangements that seemed to turn songs long associated with others into entirely original and exhilarating Buddy Greco numbers.
Regular readers of this column will know that our taste runs toward the theatrical. We prefer singers who act their material from the inside out; give us Mandy Patinkin, Judi Connelli, Baby Jane Dexter, etc. Having said that, we are amazed that Greco won us over so completely. His first few numbers, including a breezy rendition of "Summer Wind," displayed an unexceptional voice but a sweet, swinging style. Ironically, it wasn't until he took on a tune from the theater, the title song from the musical She Loves Me, that Greco started making us love him. He did this by setting the song's melody awhirl in an arrangement that percolated with passion. We almost always hate it when theater tunes are transformed into jazz numbers, but not this time; in his utterly fresh approach, Greco captured the tumultuous giddiness of falling in love. Later, he took on not only the theater but, also, Frank Sinatra--and he won on both counts, turning "The Lady is a Tramp" into a jazz piece that didn't just swing. It flew!
In performance, Greco is warm and expressive, a charming man who doesn't flaunt his exceptional skills at the piano. He doesn't have to; his talent speaks for itself without any self-promoting gestures. His playing is so strong, in fact, that when he periodically segues to purely instrumental numbers, the audience sits at the edge of its collective seat with toes tapping and heads bobbing, not missing or even thinking about the lyrics. Greco's instrumental "Misty" was lush and moody, yet cut with a playfully flirtatious sensuality. And his "MacArthur Park" (dedicated to Greco by its author, Jimmy Webb) was irresistible. Leave the cake out in the rain, and come inside to hear Greco's version of this song!
Buddy Greco doesn't interpret lyrics with any special understanding or depth; neither does he dig deep into the music of the songs he performs to find something soulful. But he is delightful as he skates across the brilliant surfaces of great songs like the musical equivalent of an Olympic skater.
Note: The show under review here, Buddy Greco: From Philly to MacArthur Park...And Beyond, plays Tuesdays thru Saturdays and runs until March 24. In the Friday and Saturday late-night spots at Arci's Place, he offers an entirely different act.