By Edward Kliszus
A packed house assembled to see and hear storyteller, songwriter, singer, and pianist extraordinaire Tony DeSare at Birdland in the intimate downstairs theater. Guitarist Edward Decker, bassist Dylan Shamat, and drummer Michael Klopp were already on stage. Lights dimmed, and all eyes turned to the handsome young DeSare approaching from the audience as he began to sing Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me” on his way to center stage.
DeSare was dressed smartly in a light gray plaid vest, white shirt, and light brown tie. His partners on stage looked sharp in dark suits, white shirts, and ties. The modus operandi for tonight’s venue was looking and sounding great.
After another Cole Porter standard, a swinging Just One of Those Things, it was clear that DeSare and his trio of instrumental partners, world-class musicians all, were to present superb singing and jazz. Of special, immediate noted were the sensitivity and insight with which the musicians collaborated. The musicians fluidly communicated the subtlest musical cues, and the sound balance was just right; they did not need to be in a recording studio to achieve perfect sound, balance, and pitch. How often do musicians forget that they are playing too loudly if they cannot hear every nuance of their partners’ sounds on stage? None of that came into play this evening. Everything we heard was like a single take in a session. Birdland lighting and sound artists deserve recognition as well.
Inspiration and Storytelling
DeSare introduced each song in an engaging and deeply personal way. His manner and charm in speaking were as crucial as his singing and playing. Audience members sighed when he spoke of his nine-year-old son and the romance and beauty of Paris. They nodded and smiled as he described the provenance of each musical gem.
While DeSare does not mimic other singers, his singing is undoubtedly an artistic tribute to Frank Sinatra, Prince, Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., and even James Taylor with his effortless singing range. In part due to the power of the American Songbook, through his artistry, DeSare draws his audience into his world and the song’s poetry, romance, and beauty, taking us through time and space to special moments and places.
A Solo and Ensemble Jazz Pianist
DeSare’s solo and ensemble piano work alone could draw audiences. He trades with his partners effortlessly, like Dianna Krall or Bill Evans, expressing new musical ideas through sophisticated improvisation. His playing is flawless and effortlessly supports his vocal offerings. His sense of humor emerges, and in his encore with Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” earned by audience acclaim, he could not help but throw in a quick musical phrase from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The delightful “New Orleans Tango,” written by DeSare, followed and reminded this writer that DeSare was a contemporary composer adding to the American Songbook. DeSare’s contribution to the extant literature is remarkable as the sacred Songbook clings mightily to its established canon.
From his tango and the next bluesy version of “Kiss” by Prince, an up version of George Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me,” and Ray Charles’s “You Don’t Know Me” in a gospel feel, DeSare portrayed his stylistic versatility.
“Paris Will Always Have You,” written by DeSare, drew on the charm of Paris and the composer’s romantic musings of the beautiful city. This song and setting provided the apposite transition to DeSare’s intimate vocal solo accompanied simply by seven-string guitarist Edward Decker in Howard Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby,” described by DeSare as the ultimate Frank Sinatra saloon song.
DeSare graciously thanked the audience and Birdland team and introduced his final song, “I’m Going to Live Until I Die,” written by Mann Curtis, Walter Kent, and Al Hoffman.
The American Songbook
Tony DeSare is an emissary of the American Songbook and storyteller par excellence. His repertoire ranges from Broadway and jazz to pop, saloon, and crooners and is broad enough to appeal to just about anyone.
Readers may be interested in the musical diary he began during COVID isolation (#songdiaries #tonydesare).
Tony DeSare’s Online Profiles
Website – http://www.tonydesare.com
Birdland Jazz Club (Theater)
315 West 44th St, New York, NY 10036