Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stacey and Nicole

Kudos to Rob Russell and his vision for the Colony Hotel’s Royal Room. What used to be a storage room at the famous Palm Beach boutique hotel has been transformed into what the Oak Room is at the Algonquin, or Feinstein’s at the Regency, or call it the Great American Songbook South. Last week we were fortunate enough to see Stacey Kent there. She may well be regarded as the new first lady of the genre. Very talented musicians back her up, in particular her husband, Jim Tomlinson, a superb saxophonist who produces her albums and is her business manager. He and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro wrote several new pieces for Stacey’s recent album, Breakfast on the Morning Tram, four of which she performed.

What catapults an artist like Stacey Kent to the top of her field? First, she is completely dedicated to the genre, living the music. When she says that her very favorite lyric is from People Will Say We're In Love, “Don't keep your hand in mine; Your hand feels so grand in mine” you feel it deeply when she sings those words as she did the other night.

Then, she articulates the lyrics while singing them, and when listening to the Great American Songbook selections, the words are as important as the music itself.
Every nuance intended by the songwriter surfaces in her performance.

Stacey came to her art somewhat by accident, studying for a Masters degree in comparative literature in Europe where she met her husband who also arrived on the music scene via an academic labyrinth. Her perfect phrasing is reminiscent of Sinatra’s who was the master. But she is a one-of-a-kind; just listen to her rendition of The Boy Next Door: .

After her performance at the Royal Room we chatted with her and Ann gave her a big hug, which was reciprocated. It’s as if we’ve known her forever.

She reminds us of another great jazz singer, Nicole Pasternak, whom we’ve befriended and regularly see perform when we’re in Connecticut, as the Northeast is her home base. In some ways Nicole is a more versatile performer, belting out a Patsy Cline song as readily as an Irving Berlin classic. Stacey by contrast has honed a distinctive style, restricting her performances to the very songs and style she can make immortal.

It is hard for a regional performer such as Nicole to bring her talents to the national scene. I’ve been trying to find the right gig for her in South Florida without success. I’m more disheartened by this than Nicole who mostly sings just for her love of this unique musical treasure we call the Great American Songbook. Thanks to her dedication and to artists such as Stacey Kent this distinctively American cultural experience lives on for future generations.