Producer Scott Siegel assured a capacity Town Hall audience that this is one awards show not to be threatened by striking stagehands or writers. The sixth annual Nightlife Awards boasted the unique distinction of honoring Gotham cabaret, comedy and jazz performers sans the accustomed thank you speeches to parents, companions, teachers and agents. A plummy assemblage of performing artists justified the recognition by doing what they do best: They performed.
Duo honors went to guitarist John Pizzarelli and thrush Jessica Molaskey, who chimed in for a medley of “If I Were a Bell” and “Ring-a-Ding-Ding!” The pair, set to encore at the Cafe Carlyle in the fall, offered a smoothly balanced pairing of ding-dong tunes that found Molaskey purring the Frank Loesser ballad as her husband added swinging contrast with a Sinatra trademark tune.
Another family pairing brought Bill Charlap to the keyboard for a poetically pure “Sophisticated Lady,” followed by his stately mom, Sandy Stewart, who recalled a bygone cabaret era with her measured reading of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Brit star Barb Jungr, winner of the vocalist award, remembered the late cabaret crooner-composer Charles DeForest with his ardently pensive composition “When Do the Bells Ring for Me?”; Lari White took the torch song to its raunchy depths with a naughty questionnaire, “Why Do Lovers Leave?” White returns to the Oak Room for a three-week stand beginning Feb.12.
Allan Harris took the jazz vocalist trophy and justified the honor with “L-O-V-E,” bolstered by pianist and music director Tedd Firth, who plays with vigorous chops and then some. The femme nod went to vet jazz thrush Carol Sloane, who offered some beautifully subtle Ellingtonia with a gently bounced “Just a Sittin’ and a Rockin’ ” and a reverently phrased “All Too Soon.”
Hilary Kole remembered Oscar Peterson with “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” on which she pairs with the late pianist on a yet-to-be-released CD. Kole studiously revealed the passionate subtext of the Rodgers and Hart classic, leaving the listener with the glow of the long-simmering embers of a classic torch song.
Cabaret comedy honors went to Christine Pedi, who justified the nod with hilarious takes on Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman and Carol Channing. Finale found Marilyn Maye, winner of the major engagement award and far too long absent from the scene, belting “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” with the kind of fervent showbiz savvy that is the envy of all divas.