Some recent events bear witness to the title of this entry. A focal point, though, is Palm Beach’s The Colony Hotel which has its very own version of Manhattan’s Cafe Carlyle, or any of the well known NYC cabarets, only more intimate. The Colony’s Royal Room attracts some topnotch American Songbook talent. Also, the Colony’s Polo Lounge Sunday brunch this season featured one of the best jazz pianists, Bill Mays. Sometime ago we heard Mays accompany diva Ann Hampton Callaway (a composer and a great jazz-cabaret singer) at the Eissey Campus Theatre of Palm Beach State College and made it a point to seek him out at the Colony’s Polo Lounge a couple of weeks ago.
I asked him to play Bill Evans’ Turn Out the Stars, not very frequently performed, a work of beautiful voicing and emotion. After a break, Mays played it solo, without the bass, effortlessly as if he plays it daily. To me, it was heartrending. Then we were treated to an impromptu performance by the then featured performer at the Royal Room -- Karen Oberlin. Amazing how an unrehearsed number by three professionals can be so natural. Bill Mays’ CD Front Row Seat is exactly as titled – it’s as if he is playing in your living room.
Last month at the Royal Room we also caught Jane Monheit who we saw years ago and who has matured into such a great stylist, with phenomenal range, her latest album, The Songbook Sessions, a tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald. She gladly posed with Ann for a photo.
She performed pieces from her album and other numbers with her trio, husband Rick Montalbano on drums, Neal Miner on bass and Michael Kanin on piano, just the perfect combo for classic jazz. Unfortunately her album (and this is very personal, not a professional observation) included a trumpet player, at times a distraction. I just wonder why the addition of a brass instrument was necessary. The bass, piano, and percussion combo is (to me) ideal for intimate, classic jazz.
Nonetheless, just to tie this together is a YouTube performance by Jane Monheit of Bill Evans’ Turn out the Stars, which was recorded at the Rainbow Room some six years ago. What a sultry performer, one of our leading jazz first ladies, along with Stacey Kent, two completely different styles but both at the top of their games.
Last Saturday our close friend and neighbor, Nina (the artist who painted “Jessica” which hangs over my piano), who is also a cellist and a singer (do her talents have no bounds?), performed in the Choral Society of the Palm Beaches (S. Mark Aliapoulios, Artistic Director) – at Jupiter’s Florida Atlantic University auditorium.
This was one of the most diverse programs we’ve seen in a long time, culminating in a partially acted out version of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, a Broadway show which was recently performed at the New York City Opera.
The program’s featured performers made it especially enjoyable, vocalists Lisa Vroman, a soprano with extensive Broadway experience (who played Rosabella in that New York City Opera presentation) and Mark Sanders, a baritone who frequently performs with the Gulf Coast Symphony. They had the perfect chemistry for performing one of the most beautiful Broadway duets ever written, Loesser’s "My Heart Is So Full of You."
But for me the highlight was the appearance and performance of Paul Posnak, who arranged Four Songs By George Gershwin for two pianos, which he played with the Choral Society’s pianist Dr. Anita Castiglione. The songs reminded me so much of Earl Wild’s arrangement, Fantasy on Porgy and Bess and after the concert I told him so. He was delighted by the comparison, and it was apt.
Not enough praise can be directed to Dr. Catiglione for her nearly non-stop performance during the 2-1/2 hour program, easily transitioning to soloing, to accompanying, from Gershwin, to Irving Berlin, to Rogers and Hammerstein, to then to Frank Loesser and finally to classical, accompanying songs beautifully sung by the 2016 Young Artist Vocal Competition Winners, Mr. Julian Frias and Ms. Celene Perez, both high school seniors with great artistic careers ahead of them. Our friend, Nina, was instrumental in organizing this competition.
Judging by these events, the American Songbook thrives and its future seems assured in the Palm Beaches!