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A Star of Today, and a Star-Maker for 25 Years

Stacey Kent shows everything she's got at the Oak Room and David Kenney celebrates his WBAI radio program at Danny's. logo
Stacey Kent
At one point during her rendition of "'Tis Autumn" (Henry Nemo), jazz vocalist Stacey Kent gently sings "La di da, la di da." A beat later, she quips, "That's all the scatting you'll get out of me." She does not lie: This is a jazz vocalist who sings standards and cares about the words. She has a warm voice that's both sensual and inviting. Her vocal style borders on the conversational, which is yet another aspect of her intimate way with a lyric. The tall yet pixie-like songbird is immediately appealing, but she will be much better when she brings a wider emotional range to her music.

A native New Yorker, Kent is a big star on the jazz circuit in England and only recently started zooming up the jazz charts in the U.S. Her initial success came quickly -- so quickly that this young and beautiful jazz stylist may never have had occasion to sing the blues, either literally or figuratively. The night we saw her show at the Oak Room, she said she didn't like to sing songs with unhappy endings. That sort of thinking might very well be the reason she's becoming so popular; happy jazz is a rare commodity but, in the long run, it limits her as an artist. She gets away with it because she's so talented -- and because she sings great songs.

The downside for Kent is that, whether she's singing a ballad like "Tea for Two" (Vincent Youmans/Irving Caeser) or an uptempo number like "The Best is Yet to Come" (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh), the preponderance of romantically reassuring songs eventually starts to blunt their impact. The ballast of a heartbreaking ballad would give dimension to the sweet stuff, and Kent has the voice and the interpretive skill to put darker numbers over. She does so on her recently released CD The Boy Next Door, but only rarely -- and, in her live show, not at all. The result is that the performance lacked depth.

Well, her outfit certainly doesn't lack depth; for this engagement Kent wears a see-through, pale blue top that clearly reveals a maroon bra beneath. Somewhere between sexy and trashy, this choice of clothing does not cry out "Oak Room," nor does Kent's generally inarticulate patter. She also has a bad habit of whispering conspiratorially with her bandleader husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, during numbers. And for our taste, the instrumental riffs delivered by each member of her four-piece band are way too long. Our final complaint is the configuration of the troupe: Kent is in the center of a square, with two musicians behind her and two other -- the pianist (who's obviously sitting) and Tomlinson (who is standing) -- in front of her. The singer doesn't move, nor does Tomlinson, and the result is that some audience members can't see Kent throughout the entire show because Tomlinson blocks their view. There's no reason for that.

Despite these criticisms, Kent has an undeniable aura of stardom. The patter will improve, as will the direction, and life itself will inevitably color her work and give it more emotional breadth. She's already got the voice, the presence, and the technique to turn listeners into fans; soon, she may very well turn fans into devotees. Stacey Kent continues at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room through Saturday, September 27.


David Kenney
Hosting a sold-out benefit concert at Danny's Skylight Room, WBAI radio personality David Kenney celebrated his 25th anniversary as the voice and the brains behind the popular American Songbook show Everything Old is New Again. He was joined on stage by many of the talented artists whose CDs he has highlighted on the air over the years.

The concert was flawlessly produced and graciously hosted by Kenney, who brought composer David Friedman up to the stage to perform and to help promote his Off-Broadway revue, set to open in October. Among the discoveries of the evening was big-voiced Michael Hunsaker, who delivered a no-holds-barred rendition of "I Can Hold You." He was joined by soprano Anne Runolfsson, who brought a deep emotional commitment to Friedman's ballad "We Can Be Kind." Both performers will be in Friedman's revue.

Mary Stout was also on hand, bringing comedy and character to the evening; she was promoting her upcoming cabaret show devoted to the music of Charles Miller (an earlier version of which was much applauded in this column). Stout was followed by the talented tenor Tom Andersen, who doesn't perform nearly as often as he should. He was thrilling in his driving rendition of "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," funny and touching when he sang "Right Field," and heartbreaking when he performed "Ghost in This House." Then Andersen surprised the audience with the most original and exciting version of "Downtown" this side of Petula Clark and that side of Karen Mason. In a word, he was sensational.

The finale brought us the deliciously playful and charming Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli. The highlight of their set was a song that Molaskey wrote and sang, "Just Can't Get a Tan." But then, everything the couple performed -- whether solo or together -- was top-drawer entertainment.

David Kenney has been sharing his knowledge of and passion for the Great American Songbook for 25 years. Grateful performers came out to support him at Danny's, and so did his loyal audience. The show was taped for later broadcast on WBAI, probably in early October; you won't want to miss it. Kenney's radio show regularly airs on Sunday nights, starting at 9pm.

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