[JPL] One Saloon Singer to Another, Encompassing Two Universes

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 8 15:53:13 EDT 2007

June 7, 2007
Music Review | 'Celebrating Bobby Short'
One Saloon Singer to Another, Encompassing Two
Now that James Brown is gone, the designation
Hardest-Working Man in Show Business is up for grabs.
One candidate for the title would have to be Michael
Feinstein, the multitasking singer, pianist,
all-around entertainer, intrepid archivist and strict
watchdog of old-guard pop traditions. 

On matters relating to the Gershwins, Irving Berlin,
Fred Astaire and the music of old Hollywood and
Broadway, Mr. Feinstein has established himself as a
final authority whose photographic memory for names,
dates, obscure lyrics and below-the-title credits few
would dare challenge. As a music historian alone, he
is an essential national resource. 

In “Celebrating Bobby Short,” his meticulously
researched, respectful homage at Feinstein’s at the
Regency, he turns his sights on the career of an
entertainer who, until his death two years ago, was
synonymous with Manhattan high life. The impressive
show illustrates that for all their similarities (as
singing pianists with piano-bar backgrounds) Short and
Mr. Feinstein dwell in parallel musical universes that
overlap tangentially.

To hear Mr. Feinstein and a small, hot pop-jazz
ensemble led by John Oddo take on Mr. Short’s
signature songs at Tuesday’s opening-night show was to
find a performer bravely venturing outside his normal
comfort zone into jazz and maintaining his footing.

Where Mr. Feinstein’s deepest musical instincts are to
deliver songs in smooth, rippling, perfectly manicured
vocal and pianistic lines, Short was an ebullient jazz
cutup. Where Mr. Feinstein conveys the sensibility of
a dreamer yearning for a golden past, Short was a
spirited party host whose playful sense of humor was
in perfect sync with the loaded double-entendres of
his favorite songwriter, Cole Porter. 

Their differences were especially apparent on Tuesday
in songs like Porter’s “Can-Can,” Lil Green’s “Romance
in the Dark” and Groucho Marx’s hilarious sideshow
leer “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.” Where Mr. Feinstein
relished their wordplay, Mr. Short insinuated the sex
behind it all. 

The fundamental difference between the two universes
is the space between African-American and Jewish pop
traditions. Mr. Short’s hi-di-ho attitude came out of
Fats Waller and Eubie Blake. Mr. Feinstein’s sleeker
pop-jazz is descended from George Gershwin. 

Each night of the engagement, which runs through June
16, a special guest appears for one number. On
Tuesday, Mr. Feinstein and Elaine Stritch interwove
the “Bobby babies” lyrics from a fragment of “Company”
with the Gershwin-Gus Kahn song “Feeling Sentimental,”
into a wistful personal tribute to the “Bobby baby”
who is deeply missed. 

Michael Feinstein’s “Celebrating Bobby Short”
continues through June 16 at Feinstein’s at the
Regency, 540 Park Avenue, at 61st Street;
feinsteinsattheregency.com; (212) 339-4095.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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