Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.
True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City. It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone. But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.
Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)
Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations. Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits. Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.
This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us. Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable. Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening. I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.
Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance. For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN. Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.
And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure. Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself. As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know. And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades. Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it? She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”
Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too. Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner. But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too. Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms. And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time. The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.
Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic. One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man. The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.
Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows. Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it. Details here.
May your happiness increase.