By Sarah Downs
If you’ve never been to the Café Carlyle, do yourself a favor. Buy a ticket to see Steve Tyrell‘s show and treat yourself to an evening of excellent music and delicious food, in a posh room whose magic comes alive when the house lights go down. The clink of glasses and hushed voices, amidst the glow of small table lamps whose shades transform into back-lit murals create the perfect intimate environment.
As for the music. Well. There is a reason Steve Tyrell has won Grammies, sung for everyone who is anyone, and produced a consistent stream of Billboard top five albums. He’s terrific. In some ways he is an atypical cabaret performer. Yes, he’s smooth and handsome in his black suit, but he is also more robust than swanky. Loaded with Texan charm, he brings a relaxed style and a touch of country accent to the music. What a pleasure to see a performer be himself, rather than trying to fit someone else’s lesser mold.
He kicked off the set with three classics sung in the traditional style of a cabaret opener, an uptempo arrangement geared to raising the energy of the room. This affectation usually leaves me cold, but the jazz/funky/country sound was so much fun, it elevated the medley out of the predictable and into the intriguing. His voice was a little gritty and tight initially. He lost a little steam during the Frank Sinatra songs, which felt a tad more obligatory than inspired, but he quickly regained his momentum with songs like I Say a Little Prayer and Sunday Kind of Love. Interestingly, when Tyrell got into the groove of the music closest to his heart, the early 1960’s, Otis Redding, Burt Bachrach, Leon Russell repertoire, his voice took on a lyrical, more effortless tone, and his high notes opened up. There is no substitute for singing the music you love. It’s impossible to believe he is 73 years old. Tyrell’s performance of This Guy really has stuck with me (I literally woke up singing it), as has his interpretation of You Were Always on My Mind.
I cannot praise enough the excellent musical arrangements by Bob Mann. They’re hip and intelligent. They tell a whole new story with each song, reflecting the uninhibited range of Tyrell’s own stylistic tastes. It’s hard to choose, but my favorite orchestration has to be the gorgeous treatment of A Song for You by Leon Russell (whom Tyrell credits as one of his biggest influences.)
Tyrell shares the stage with a band of top shelf performers: Bob Mann, Quinn Johnson, David Finck, Jon Allen, David Mann and Kevin Winard. They play seamlessly together; evidence of the kind of work ethic and relationship musicians develop over time. Where one instrument leaves off, another picks up, including Tyrell himself, in a performance that allows the individual to stand out without diminishing the effectiveness of the arrangements. For example, the jazz interlude on Come Rain or Come Shine was nearly hypnotic.
Amazingly, Tyrell was in San Francisco Monday night, appeared on Fox t.v.’s a.m. show Tuesday morning, and then sang his heart out Tuesday night. This is the definition of a trouper; it’s an old school approach that has clearly sustained him through his four decade long career and brought him to this moment. In the highlight of the evening one of the executives at his record label (Warner) surprised Tyrell with a placque of his latest album, A Song for You, which has gone to No. 1 on the Traditional Jazz chart. What a thrill for us all to see a performer be rewarded for his talent and longevity, and how heartwarming to witness his joy. As Tyrell remarked, it takes a lot to render him speechless.
Tyrell’s fans run the gamut. Everyone from the older patrons to Al Roker and his wife, to the two young women sitting next to me, who couldn’t have been more than 30, cheered him as an old friend. It is no surprise the Carlyle welcomes Tyrell’s return each year. Congratulations to him for yet another standout performance and for a No. 1 selling album. His success and recognition are much deserved.
Steve Tyrell, with Bob Mann (arranger/guitar), Quinn Johnson (piano), David Finck (bass), Jon Allen (keyboards/vocals), David Mann (saxophone/flute) and Kevin Winard (drums). At the Café Carlyle April 10th through 14th; Tuesday – Friday at 8;45 p.m., and Saturday and 8:34 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Weekday pricing begins at $120 per person / Bar Seating: $80 / Premium seating: $175; weekend pricing begins at $150.00 per person / Bar Seating: $90 / Premium Seating: $190. Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600 or online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle at The Carlyle Hotel (35 East 76th Street).