New to the annual JVC Jazz Festival concert series, Cabaret Jazz Hall of Fame is expected to be an annual event. Vet concert producer Jack Kleinsinger noted that the participating artists were all equally at home with either jazz and blues or the smart, sophisticated repertoire associated with the world of cabaret. The four principal performers all boast long club and concert careers, and they are fine singers, pianists and composers.
The Joe Bushkin set began with a filmed segment — introduced by Judy Garland — which reviewed a career spanning seven decades and recalled his historic association with legends Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
“All the cats I played with are gone,” Bushkin noted. “When I go there will be nobody around to miss me.” That’s high unlikely, considering the agile keyboard flights and hard swinging attitude displayed at his Kaye Playhouse performance. At 85, Bushkin displayed his pixie-ish charm and played some aggressively colorful piano arrangements of Gershwin, Rodgers and Porter classics. But it was his own hit “Oh, Look at Me Now,” a 1940 tune recorded with the Dorsey clan and a very young Sinatra, that became a lasting career milestone. His salty voice and impish charm made it the evening’s prize moment.
Backed by guitarist Howard Alden, bassist Jay Leonhart and Joe Ascione on drums, Bushkin’s flight into still another decade is little short of astonishing.
Ronny Whyte, one of the principal performers of the long-running Off Broadway homage to the chairman of the board, “Our Sinatra,” possesses a warm brandy voice. His imaginatively structured and distinctive piano framed his own lovely originals “Warm Goes to Warm” and “Forget the Woman” as well as Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife.” With no apologies to Ella, Satchmo or Bobby Darin, Whyte puts a fresh twist on the tune by singing it in German, with his own scatting second chorus trading dazzling measures with Eddie Montiero’s vocalese and flavorful continental accordion assist.
With Rosemary Clooney’s favorite drummer, Joe Cocuzzo, adding the punch and drive, the set boasted a big, rich sound balanced by the required intimacy.
Blossom Dearie, the ever youthful grand doyenne of Big Apple cabaret, eased into a program of amusing trademark novelty tunes, “My Attorney Bernie,” Dietz and Schwartz’s “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” and the Dave Frishberg-Bob Dorough groovy confessional “I’m Hip.” Dearie’s airy piano touch and small, sweet curly voice define cabaret intimacy, even in a packed concert hall.
Freddy Cole is the epitome of the relaxed club performer. Nice and easy is his journey through such warming standards as “I Remember You” and “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.” Though Cole has been an active participant on the club scene for little more than a decade and is long out from under the shadow of his late brother, there are always a couple of tunes that recall that particular warming touch. “Candy” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” evoked Nat’s legacy, but Freddy made his own alluring Latin statement with the flavorful title tune from his new Telarc CD, “Rio de Janeiro Blue.”