The creme de la creme from the worlds of cabaret and jazz gathered at Carnegie Hall to remember and honor the memory and talent of Miss Peggy Lee, the singer-composer who died last year at the age of 81. Opening video montage of Lee performing with Bing, Judy, Dean and ol’ Blue Eyes, proved to be a hard act to follow.
Nancy Sinatra, (in trademark boots under a long skirt,) opened with a sassy take on, “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Lee’s 1942 chart hit with the Benny Goodman band. Jazz baby Ann Hampton Callaway added a free-swinging spirit to a couple of tunes Lee penned with her husband, guitarist Dave Barbour, “It’s a Good Day,” and the Mexicali novelty, “Manana.”
A couple of Manhattan’s suave piano playing, singing troubadours, Peter Cincotti and Eric Comstock, offered slickly tailored performances of Lee comps. The former served up an assured take on “I Love Being Here with You,” and Mr. Comstock, joined by harpist Corky Hale, provided a wistfully poignant “The Shining Sea.”
Lee wrote “In the Days of Our Love” with legendary jazz pianist, Marian McPartland, who accompanied Jackie Cain, singing it — or rather cradling it — with a lovely searching sense of longing that revealed the heart, soul and depth of the piece.
There were many fine moments among the landmark songs of the Peggy Lee repertoire, from Dee Dee Bridgewater’s torchy “Black Coffee” and sizzling “Fever” to Rita Moreno’s dramatically trenchant “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” A Shirley Horn postscript assured some weepy patrons that “There’ll Be Another Spring.”
Vet thrush Chris Connor sang “Where Can I Go Without You?” and revealed the dusky, intimate warmth that has been her trademark for over four decades. Nancy Sinatra returned to form a cautious alliance with Deborah Harry for an under-rehearsed excerpt from Lee’s score for “The Lady and the Tramp,” prefaced by a Walt Disney filmed intro.
Broadway’s Cy Coleman offered jaunty assurance that “The Best is Yet to Come” and filled in for an ailing Bea Arthur to reprise Lee’s hit from “Sweet Charity,” “Big Spender.”
Finale brought composer Mike Stoller to introduce a filmed clip of Lee performing “Is That All There Is?”, which he co-wrote with Jerry Leiber. The segment revealed Lee’s subtle rhythmic sense, the understated phrasing and the cool economy of her singing. She was a very hip lady.
Credit producer Richard Barone for a smoothly paced program, gracefully uncluttered without a master of ceremonies. Each artist was led to center stage with the assist of elegant escorts, tux-clad gents for the gals and satiny-gowned ladies for the guys. It boasted the kind of glamour and sophistication Lee would have most certainly approved.
Mike Renzi, who always does these affairs so very well, conducted the tightly orchestrated concert, and it was all kicked up a notch by the presence of Gotham’s elite rhythm section, Bucky Pizzarelli, Grady Tate and Jay Leonhart. Few singers have the luxury of such distinctive support.