By Michael Hillyer
You can only do this in New York.
It’s a Tuesday evening, and you pop into the Café Carlyle for cocktails and a swell three-course dinner before a show. If you are from out of town, you might ask, “What’s so special about that? A person can catch dinner and a show in practically any major city in the U.S.”
Well, first off, it’s the Café Carlyle; so let’s start there. The colorful Marcel Vertès murals that surround this cozy room, just steps away from Central Park, have seen a lot of famous people grace their confines since the Café opened in 1955. It has always been a glamorous cabaret scene, since day one, and the ghosts of JFK and Jackie, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Stritch and Bobby Short still haunt this joint. The veteran service staff here, masters of their craft, have been culled from the upper ranks of their profession. Across the lobby, opposite the elegant dining room of the Carlyle restaurant, the storied Bemelmans Bar beckons you, each night of the week featuring at the piano an artist from a regular roster of superb talent.
But it’s just a Tuesday, and you are at the intimate Café Carlyle across the hall, where after dinner the legendary recording artist Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall, are scheduled to perform, just a few steps away from your table.
Truly, you can only do this in New York. I mean, step out of your cab and take your table and there’s Herb Alpert. During the 60’s and 70’s, during the age of the Beatles, this man dominated airtime on the radio to an extent that few other performing artists of his generation could match. An accomplished trumpet player, Mr. Alpert tapped into a popular south-of-the-border sound with the Tijuana Brass, infusing samba and mariachi music with a jazz sensibility and then rolled out hit after hit: A Taste of Honey, which won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year, then Going Places produced four more hit singles: “Tijuana Taxi”, “Spanish Flea”, “Third Man Theme”, and “Zorba the Greek,” followed down the road by “Rise” and the monster No. 1 hit, “This Guy’s In Love With You,” which featured the laid-back Mr. Alpert on lead vocals as well as trumpet. Add to which six Grammy Awards, fifteen gold discs, and fourteen platinum discs; at one point, he had five albums in the Top 20 on the Billboard Pop Album chart at the same time, an unrivaled accomplishment. Honored at the White House as a recipient of the 2012 National Medal of Arts, he won another Grammy in 2014 for Best Pop Instrumental Album, “Steppin’ Out.”
This accomplished musician, now in his early eighties, performs effortlessly, with the bearing and demeanor of a man thirty years younger. His wife of forty+ years, Lani Hall, one of the singers of the Sergio Mendes band Brasil ’66, who was the lead voice on classic hits like “Fool On The Hill” and “Going Out Of My Head” and who introduced the James Bond tune, “Never Say Never Again,” joins him at the microphone fronting an excellent trio upstage: the astonishing Bill Cantos on piano, Hussain Jiffry playing an unusual 6-string bass with great panache, and the versatile, dynamic Michael Shapiro on drums. Lani Hall sings with the cool assurance of a lifelong pro, and while much of the program doubles back to reprise medleys of some of her husband’s many hit songs, she also ventures pretty deep into the American songbook for some nifty versions of old standards like “Fever” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” Their moving, straight-ahead-jazz version of “Never Never Land” caught the room by surprise and brought the Carlyle to its knees; there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. From start to finish, this show was a genuine treat, and you would be well advised to catch this wonderful act before it ends its run on June 11th.
A lot of things in New York can prove difficult to accomplish, but this ought to be a snap. Pick up the phone and call the Carlyle for reservations, and at the appointed hour, just step out of your cab on Madison Avenue, where it’s just another day in the Big Apple.
Performances are Tuesday – Friday at 8:45pm, and Saturdays at 8:45pm and 10:45pm. Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600 or online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue. Dress code is chic attire; gentlemen must wear jackets.