By Stanford Friedman
How’s the house at Birdland at 7 p.m. on a Monday? Well, it’s filled to the rafters, thanks, when two pros like Amanda McBroom and John Bucchino decide to join forces, as they did this week, to perform a couple of classics, along with favorite tunes they have written, together or apart. McBroom’s songs have been recorded by everyone from Barbara Cook to Kurt Cobain to The Chipmunks, while she is perhaps best known for writing the Bette Midler hit, “The Rose.” Her friend for over 30 years, Bucchino, is no slouch either, with an equally impressive list of star recording artists (Liza Minnelli and Art Garfunkel to name but two) and a Broadway credit for the score of A Catered Affair, featuring Harvey Fierstein.
The joy of listening to songwriters sing is the care and attention paid to the words being sung. McBroom shapes every syllable into rich and ripe tones capable of bringing on the tears. Bucchino weaves his words into a tight tapestry that matches his gentle humor and complements his superior work at the keyboard.
As befitting a holiday show in Manhattan, the night’s subject matter centered around broken dreams and ruined relationships (Though McBroom did ultimately relent with a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that approached angelic.). McBroom, in singing Bucchino’s “Sweet Dreams,” tells of a hopeful meeting of a down and out couple traveling West, only to be crushed with a brutal final lyric, “There is a sidewalk in California/Where they put the stars right at your feet/And people delight in/Steppin’ on them.” Similarly, in McBroom’s stirring “Putting Things Away,” we are led to believe we are hearing a light song about a housewife’s dread of grocery shopping until the pivot where she realizes what all has been put away in her life in exchange for “a simple golden ring.”
Bucchino humorously informed the audience that his love life is so unstable that he has begun grading his relationships by the number of songs that their ultimate breakups inspire, as in “That relationship was a 2-songer.” Examples of his venting included dashed expectations in “The Song With The Violins” and a bitterly funny not-quite-better-off-without-you confession, “On My Bedside Table.”
If Birdland’s Yamaha grand piano could talk, it would no doubt humblebrag over the many talented fingers that have tickled its ivories. But it would also surely express jealousy over Bucchino who recorded an entire album of Richard Rodgers melodies using the piano once owned by Rodgers, upon which the tunes first sprang to life. He offered up a taste with a gorgeous, jazz-inflected version of “My Favorite Things.” Many of his other works performed here can be heard on his 2000 album Grateful, The Songs Of John Bucchino, while McBroom’s country-tinged ninth album, Voices, was recorded in Nashville and features a version of “The Rose” performed as a duet with Vince McGill.
Sweet Dreams and Roses – Amanda McBroom and John Bucchino at Birdland, 315 W 44th St.,(212) 581-3080, www.birdlandjazz.com.