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John Wallowitch: Music Master

Barbara & Scott Siegel have high praise for John Wallowitch's recent, all-too-brief engagement at the FireBird Café.

By New York City

John Wallowitch
John Wallowitch
There is something uniquely transporting about John Wallowitch's music. The adorably impish singer/songwriter, who just finished a short stint at the FireBird Café, is that rare entertainer who can make you feel as if you're back in the age of Porter, Berlin, and the Gershwins. He evokes nostalgia with songs that mention the likes of Fred Astaire, Kate Hepburn, and Garbo, but he also goes a long way toward recreating the golden age of café society with his musical wit and sophistication.

Wallowitch is perhaps best known for what might be called his upper-crust comedy numbers, such as "Bruce" (a Blossom Dearie staple), "I'm 27," and "Cosmetic Surgery," all of them touched by a Cole Porter-esque cleverness. When he sits at the piano, playing and singing these songs as he did at the FireBird Café, you feel as if you're in his salon in a shimmering tower overlooking Manhattan. So drink up and be a little decadent. Suffuse yourself in his aristocratic attitude, then laugh along with Wallowitch as he slyly undercuts any sense of class superiority. It's every man for himself when he sings about how we might be getting older, "But me, I'm 27."

The real surprise for those who have only a passing knowledge of Wallowitch's work is that he's a far more complex and versatile songwriter than his comedy numbers alone would suggest. His lyrics are specific, honest, and heartfelt. Take a song like "I Live Alone Again," featured on his DRG recording, John Wallowitch: My Manhattan. About the aftermath of a romance, he sings:

I close my eyes,
I whisper lies,
Those little lies that were so dear to me.
I close the door,
I check the lock,
And, in the dark, I hear the ticking of the clock.
And now the tears
For all the years
That I live alone again,
I live alone again.

Then Wallowitch turns the lyric upside down and, with a slight shift of words and tone, moves from sadness to liberation. Suddenly, happily, there is the freedom of living alone. And then he changes tone one more time with a delicate, heartbreaking simplicity.

Wallowitch is such a clever lyricist that there is tendency to overlook his work as a melody maker. His comedy numbers have a bouncy, ingratiating quality, but his ballads are often haunting and touchingly romantic. His greatest song might well be "This Moment"; when he performed it at the FireBird, there was many a misty eye. Few songwriters deliver their tunes so well, and the irony of that statement is that Wallowitch hasn't really got much of a voice. What he has is truckloads of musical style, and that spells talent in any era.

If you missed Wallowitch at the FireBird, you can listen to him on the first two of the following threr CDs, and you can hear his music on the third:

1) John Wallowitch: My Manhattan
2) John Wallowitch: Back on the Town
3) Dixie Carter Sings John Wallowitch: Live at the Carlyle


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