“Broadway is alive and kicking this season. But the best theatrical bargain in the city was last Friday’s show at the Cell, ‘Jazz and the City: The New York Connection.’ This review of America’s great songwriters and their relationship with New York was poignant, engrossing and magical. Charles Hale’s commentary was as relaxed as it was enlightening and insightful. A brilliant evening! Here’s hoping for an encore.” Peter Quinn, novelist
From the best of times to the worst of times, songwriters have captured every corner of New York City through music. For the past 375 years, musicians have paid homage to the city they call home with songs such as ‘New York State of Mind,’ ‘New York, New York,’ ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘I’ll Take Manhattan,’ but on Friday night at The Cell Theatre in Manhattan, Charles R. Hale’s Jazz and the City: The New York Connection explored some of the great tunes in the American Songbook through a different perspective. Weaving narrative and sidebars through the music of the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Billy Strayhdorn and others, Hale connected New York City and the songs through their composers and artists who lived here, through the venues in which the songs were popularized and through his own recollection of New York and song.
Joining Hale were a brilliant collection of musicians, David Raleigh on piano and vocals, Tony Carfara, saxophone, Danny Weller, bass guitar and Daniel Glass, drums. From Raleigh’s tender and moving performance of Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” to Carfara’s soaring sax on “Stormy Weather,” to Weller’s killer bass solo in Strayhorn’s “A Train,” all backed by the eminently responsive and tasteful rhythms of drummer Glass, each song was a beautifully, turned out gem.
Hale pointed out that hundreds of musical compositions have been written about New York, but in addition, there are many, while not written about the city, that both evoke and paint a musical portrait of New York, such as Gershwins’ “Rhapsody in Blue.” He tied the songs to the city, introducing tidbits of information from Fred Astaire singing to Ginger Rogers on a foggy ferry deck during a trip from New Jersey to Manhattan, to a scene in which fictional New York City bus driver Ralph Cramden and his wife make up to the tunes of “Our Love is Here to Stay,” to his recollection of sitting in a bar as a young man, closing time, watching an older man, lost in his thoughts, hearing his life reflected in a Sinatra saloon song.
Plans are in the works to do the show again. As actor Jack O’Connell said, “I hope so. It was a great evening. The presentation was original and had NYC savvy. Pianist and vocalist David Raleigh and his musicians were well prepared. Hale was great using that staircase, very theatrical…and all grand. A most convivial after show party as well…I could have hung out all night.” Jack O’Connell, actor.
All photos by Vera Hoar