Barbara Cook returns to Feinstein’s after an eight-year absence with a joyfully melodious set of standards from the great American songbook. Singer starts off with Vincent Youmans’ “I Want to Be Happy” and a dream-like “Time on My Hands,” launching an 80-minute party titled “Here’s to Life.”
Harold Arlen and Stephen Sondheim — Cook’s favorite songwriters? — share top honors with three songs each. The former’s twin rousers “You’re a Builder Upper” and “Buds Won’t Bud” lead the way, prompting several patrons to bop along with the drummer. Cook’s rendition of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” is as good as ever, while her exquisitely tender “Goodbye for Now” (from the movie “Reds”) is even better.
Cook notes that most of these songs come from immigrants and sons of immigrants. “I don’t know much about immigration, all these problems,” she said. “But if they can write songs like this, we should let ’em in.” (She added, for good measure, “We don’t want to get too political, because only Republicans can afford the bill here.”)
Cook reminisced about her first New York job as a statistical typist, back in 1948; she was promoted to chief file clerk, despite not knowing how to file. She soon nabbed her first singing gig at the famed Blue Angel, where she fell under the spell of cabaret great Mabel Mercer. Cook pays homage with a Mercer favorite, Alec Wilder’s “Goodbye John,” bringing tears to the eyes of both patrons and singer.
The band is perfectly adequate, which is not exactly praise. Cook deserves arrangements and musicians that complement her, rather than simply providing accompaniment.
Musical director Lee Musiker plays piano well enough and has helped Cook assemble a highly pleasing program, but nobody up there provides musical excitement other than the singer. Cook tops off the evening with a microphone-less encore of “What a Wonderful World,” which sent the audience out to Park Ave on a cloud.