Well, it's been an interesting week. Let's start with Tuesday. That was "Hip" day -- and we're not talkin' medical insurance, we're talkin' musical insouciance. You see, Tuesday was the day of John Pizzarelli's opening at Feinstein's at the Regency, and this guy comes from a long line of hip. His father, Bucky is a jazz guitar icon. His wife is musical theater actress and newly minted jazz stylist Jessica Molaskey. His brother in music, Ray Kennedy, is arguably the most accomplished jazz pianist this side of Mars; and John's real brother, bass player Martin Pizzarelli, is so hip that he holds the record for most number of sets played without ever smiling. The whole musical clan is on hand at Feinstein's through June 21 in a show called, natch, The Pizzarelli Family.
The clan has regularly come to Feinstein's under that title but, this time, the musical mix was a bit different: Molaskey was noticeably pushed forward to help promote her new CD, A Good Day. Happily, in this family, most anyone can step up and command the attention of an audience. Still, Molaskey is most compelling when she duets with her hubby; that's not meant to knock her solo work, but rather as an acknowledgement of their advanced degree in performance chemistry. In other words, John and Jessica are sensational together, particularly in a medley they call "Def Jam Swing."
Proud papa Bucky Pizzarelli plays dueling duets with son John. Their love and respect for each other is expressed so genuinely in their art that one can only admire their relationship. In yet another highlight of the show, Ray Kennedy forms a sensational musical tag team with John as they storm through their new arrangement of "Just You, Just Me."
John Pizzarelli is not only a brilliant musician and a sly vocalist, he is also one of the jazz world's funniest standup comics. His throwaway patter is more consistently hilarious than that of many comedy club headliners; the story he tells about being 19 and rooming with his father during a gig in New Orleans is as revealing about the two men as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Speaking of comedy: John thought he was joking when he invited the audience to sing along with him on the list song "Rhode Island is Famous For You." To his surprise, the opening night audience -- including Michael Feinstein, who performs the number -- jumped right in with every lyric. It was a true New York moment, one of those live entertainment epiphanies that you probably couldn't duplicate, no matter how hard you tried.
If you get to see this show, don't let John leave the stage for good without singing "I Love Jersey Best." Demand it. That encore, with its various verses sung in the styles of Bob Dylan, Lou Rawls, Lou Reed, Billie Holliday, Paul Simon, Sting & The Police, etc., is the most marvelous piece of nightclub entertainment we've heard since -- well, since the last time we heard John perform it.
Wednesday was our night for cool. (Actually, the entire New York spring fits that definition, but you can hear about that on the Weather Channel). On Wednesday, we caught jazz pianist Barbara Carroll at Birdland. A poet of the piano, she has a fluidity of style that seems as effortless as breathing. (What we wouldn't give to have Ray Kennedy and Barbara Carroll together, performing two-piano duets!)
A recent recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from MAC, Carroll looks elegant and carries herself like a lady with a capital L. There is a tendency, therefore, to think of her as a jazz sophisticate. Sure, she's plenty sophisticated when she want to be -- but, just when you think you have her pegged, she snaps off a bit of sharp, uptown jazz that calls to mind Harlem in its heyday.
Carroll generally plays standards like "Fly Me to the Moon" and "You and the Night and the Music." Whatever she plays, it mesmerizes, engages, and impresses. She is not a vocalist of distinction, but when she plays, her fingers sing with a singular beauty and bewitching brilliance. You have one last Wednesday to catch her at Birdland, with sets at 9pm and 11pm on June 4.
Thursday was class -- and we mean that both ways. Mary Cleere Haran is a classy performer whose patter is as informative as it is entertaining. Her new show at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room (running through June 28) has the rather awkward title My Shining Hour -- Movie Songs & Love in the 1940s. "Movie Love Songs of the 1940s" would have done it, but the title scarcely matters; Haran has mastered the art of the cabaret act.
Haran constructs her show around a subject that she neatly personalizes through anecdotes and zesty zingers; for the audience member, it's something like sitting in on a class with your favorite professor. The best part is that there is no test at the end -- though, come to think of it, Haran is so good at what she does that you'd remember most everything she tells you and you'd undoubtedly pass any such test.
Always quick and loose with a one-liner, Haran now appears equally loose musically thanks to her switch in musical directors from Sir Richard Rodney Bennett to the daring Don Rebic. Less formal and more playful in her musical choices, Haran cuts up with the band when she sings "No Love, No Nothing" from 1943's The Gang's All Here. She excels in light material like "On the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe" from 1946's The Harvey Girls. If she doesn't break your heart with such ballads as "I Remember You" from 1942's The Fleet's In or "Moonlight Becomes You" from 1942's Road to Morocco, she nonetheless evokes the mood and meaning of these songs. In short, any singer who wants to learn how to put an act together can go to school on Mary Cleere Haran -- and plenty already have.
Any day of the week is a good day to stop in at a piano bar. We've been making the rounds lately, and so we can offer the following tips.
On Thursday and Friday nights check out Dillon's on West 54th Street. Intimate and with a food menu (a rare thing in a piano bar), Dillon's has the edgy, dicey, and delightful Ricky Ritzel on Thursdays and the warm, affable, and equally delightful Joe Regan on Fridays. Leslie Anderson sings and serves on both nights, and she is absolutely top drawer. In addition, lots of talented people get up to warble, which brings us to a unique bit of happenstance...
It started with Mychelle Colleary at Dillon's, singing "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" with a winning combination of acting panache and vocal skill. Then, no matter where else we went, Colleary showed up too, performing something different but always extremely well. Having seen and heard her not that long ago (again, by chance) at Brandy's Piano Bar, we find ourselves impressed not only with her talent but with her perseverance. This is what every serious young singer should be doing: using piano bars as a free ride to hone their craft and to build a following.
Also on Friday nights, at Rose's Turn (55 Grove Street), you can enjoy the singing of Terri White, Kelly Howe, and Joe Ardizzone, with Michael Issacs as the wild man at the piano. White is a fabulous fixture at Rose's Turn and is not to be missed; Howe is a charmer on her way up, Ardizzone is a rocker with a rich belt. But we were particularly taken by Issacs at the piano. New to us, he brought so much joy to the job
of banging out tunes for the tourists (and the regulars) that we couldn't help but love him. He plays like a man possessed, he's got a better voice than most of the piano bar players in town, and his energy level rivals that of Mark Nadler. What fun! (Oh, and Mychelle Colleary was there.)
We keep finding ourselves at Jim Caruso's Cast Party on Mondays; that's the night it happens, and it happens at the King Kong Room in The Supper Club on West 47th Street. The night we were there, a veritable parade of excellent singers took the microphone, including Alexandra Haas, Julie Reyburn, Ludmilla Ilieva, AJ Irvin, and (of course!) Mychelle Colleary.
These talent extravaganzas are supposed to start at 10pm but they don't seem to really get into gear till around 11. Sometimes food is available, and sometimes it isn't; they need to establish a more consistent policy as far as that's concerned. But Caruso consistently provides a flow of exciting singers, and he's definitely, hip, cool, and classy all by himself.