Kevin on Kabaret :: Jazzy Judy
Forty-three years after her death, Judy fever (ask not which Judy!) rages on unabated. In recent years, there have been tributes by the likes of Rufus Wainright and Colleen McHugh; impersonators Peter Mac and Tommy Femia (over twenty years and counting) are finding big audiences still; and this year Tracie Bennett galvanized Broadway with her no-holds-barred performance as Garland in "End of the Rainbow." What is there left to do?
How about a tribute that focuses on Garland's extensive songbook? Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore will do just that with "The Jazzy Side of Judy Garland," which will have a two-week engagement at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, through August 11. Kilgore, born and raised in Massachusetts but who started building her career in Oregon about three decades ago (count 'em, about thirty recordings so far, and she's been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame), comes to Judy after performing the songbooks of Billie Holliday and Marilyn Monroe in the last couple of years. Could her choices be any different?
Like a love affair
"I don’t have a voice like Judy or the others, but I love their music," Kilgore told me. "I’m an archivist as much as anything else and I like finding old songs and presenting them. It’s like a love affair when I discover them."
Asked if she found any Judy gems we may not have heard, she answered enthusiastically. "Yes! I have more material than I could possibly do. But I know it’s a risk to do a lot of unknown material so I will do some of her more well-known material as well." She paused for a laugh. "That being said, I will not do ’Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ but I will talk about how the song came about and the background of her relationship to the material."
Kilgore emphasized, "I’m looking at her musically. I’m not impersonating her and I’ll do different things with the songs rather than focus on the hype, the icon, the Church of Judy." Kilgore added that she’s been reading a lot about Garland and does hope to see the Bennett performance while she’s in town.
For this gig, she’s back with the Harry Allen Quartet. Kilgore has worked with some of the best in the business, including Allen (a saxophonist), trombonist Dan Barrett, John Pizzarelli, and David Frishberg. "The higher the quality of musician you work with, the better it is," Kilgore said. "Music has to be respected and you have to strive for the best material. Good musicians open up your ears to new possibilities."
As for her long and prolific career, Kilgore chuckled. "Maybe I’ll live long enough to be a legend, but I’m not quite there yet." Pausing to consider it all, she went on, "I’ve been very lucky to be associated with Arbor Records in Florida, which handles most of my recordings. But I’m a little worried about the future of jazz and wonder if this type of music is on the descent right now."
Still, she is thrilled about her two weeks at Feinstein’s. "Harry Allen has done some beautiful arrangements and I hope we get to make a recording of this," Kilgore said in closing.
Having experienced Kilgore’s opening night with her marvelous quartet, I am certain Judy is looking down with satisfaction. With her warm, sunny vocals, Kilgore has brought sparkling life to these glorious songs once again . . .
Space at a premium
Speaking of Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency, come January 2013, the posh club will be at the famed hotel no more. The hotel will be undergoing a renovation and putting in a new restaurant. Cabaret sensation Michael Feinstein, whose club has had an extraordinary run of 14 years, has vowed to take his club and name to a new location, as yet unannounced. I’ll miss that fancy but friendly spot on the upper east side, but glad the club will have new life.
I finally got to the new 54 Below in July and it definitely lives up to its hype. The seats are comfortable and the tables are spaced apart nicely. The rectangular room with its wide stage at the front offers a good seat for everyone-not a bad sight line in the whole place. The room is decorated in a gold, black and white color scheme and modern, not trying to create a yesteryear look but something tastefully hip. I hope this one’s a keeper for many years to come.
And so we are faced with an interesting problem. 54 Below, Feinstein’s, The Café Carlyle (dark for the summer), The Metropolitan Room, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, and Jim Caruso’s Monday nights at Birdland, have all been booking top-drawer acts. While this has given us an unbelievable amount of good cabaret this year, one has to wonder if the economy can support them all-no matter how excellent and famous the talent is.
But what is sadder is the dearth of small rooms for the up-and-coming talent. One of the joys of cabaret has always been that it was a reasonably affordable way for a new talent to scrape some money together and put on a show, or build a career slowly over several years. Now, the economics of that are very difficult. We’re down to a small handful of piano bars and The Duplex and Don’t Tell Mama are the only cabaret rooms left that actively seek out the promising newcomers. And although the Duplex still offers a sliding scale room fee (you pay less if you bring in more people), all of the rooms have raised their room fees and many take a percentage of the cover as well. After the expenses of musicians, director, and whatever promotion is involved, what’s a singer to do?
And now, Kev’s Faves: Recent Bistro Award winners Parker Scott (vocals) and Wells Hanley (piano) bring their magic to the Metropolitan Room on August 9 . . . the ageless Marieann Meringolo (her rich voice often compared to a mix of Barbra and kd) brings her birthday show to the same room on the 12th . . . and the smooth and sexy Allan Harris ends the month at the Met with shows August 28-31 . . . star of stage and screen Victor Garber visits 54 Below on the 13th and 20th . . . the first lady of cabaret, Raissa Katona Bennett, opens her new show at Feinstein’s for a week beginning August 21 . . . and fun duo Sue Matsuki and Edd Clark bring their tribute to Steve and Eydie to Don’t Tell Mama on August 14 and 21.
I love when the city slows down in August. While many take their vacations, I take in the shows. I’ll see you over cocktails!