THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
I've Got Your Number – The Jazz of Cy Coleman
The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED
Until October 20, 2013
No relation of Elaine, and perhaps most famous as the MD and accompanist to Liza Minnelli for some years now, Stritch gets the microphone to himself here and plays a mean jazz piano, while taking us on a tour of the less familiar byways of the work of the great Cy Coleman. Coleman is most famous as the composer of shows such as Sweet Charity, Barnum, and City of Angels, but here Stritch, for the most part, eschews the show tunes in favor of the jazz numbers which Coleman wrote for the popular music giants of the day and which demonstrated his consummate skill as a tunesmith. The much under rated Carolyn Leigh provided the lyrics to most of these songs. Tart, clever and urbane and with a delight for triple rhymes and clever wordplay, she was a New Yorker cartoon come to life.
Stritch, now in his 50s, and no longer the eager young sidekick to divas like Minnelli, is the perfect exemplar of this music. He is a class act and his set, which includes such standards such as 'Witchcraft' and 'When In Rome', perfectly evokes that brandy 'n cigarettes era of the late '50s-early '60s. This Mad Men world of course this fits the Crazy Coqs like a glove.
Like the best cabaret artists he's an eager enthusiast for his material especially the lesser known songs ('It Amazes Me' is his all time favorite). What sets him apart is his simplicity of approach, serving the song and not his ego and backing it up with a polished technique refined over the decades. His voice has great power and his diction would please his idol Bobby Short. Like Coleman he too was gainfully employed as a pianist from a young age and with his effortless playing (ably abetted by Dave Olney on bass) he makes songs like 'I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life' or 'Let Me Down Easy' ache with a tender melancholy. By contrast, 'Paris Is My Old Kentucky Home', could be a Cole Porter list song and the lyrics for the languid ballad 'I'm in Love Again', could only have come from the pen of Miss Peggy Lee.
It's a carefully selected and compelling programme from someone at the top of his game. His ease, his craft, his way with an audience and his sheer good taste make this an object lesson in what good Cabaret should be about.
Billy Stritch is at Crazy Coqs till October 20. You can find out more at www.londonfestivalofcabaret.com and after the festival is over you can continue to enjoy a host of artists at Crazy Coqs. Check out www.brasseriezedel.com/crazy-coqs