By Sarah Downs
Everything old is new again in East Side After Dark at the Café Carlyle. In their return engagement at Café Carlyle, cabaret (and husband and wife) team John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey bring the classic American Songbook to life, in a show that celebrates the golden age of the New York supper club. Do not miss it.
The couple reminisces about what it was like to work in night clubs not so long ago. The late nights, the late-late nights, and the all-night nights. New York City was a 24 hour playground for music lovers. Just as we can find great theater in the most unexpected of venues, so one could drop in on some amazing jazz performances at clubs in midtown, joining fellow night owls who didn’t want the evening to end.
Both Pizzarelli and Molasky, with long experience performing at major venues everywhere, and recording with a competitive list of “Who’s Who” in music, have a trove of memories to share, in comfortable banter that leaves for ad libs and digressions. They work in such a relaxed style the music flows effortlessly into patter and out again. Plentiful instrumental solos add a velvet layer of luxury.
Opening with the Warren/Gershwin tune “Cheerful Little Earfull” they set the evening’s happy-go-lucky tone, followed by a paean to all that is unique and wonderful about New York City. “When you’re far away From New York Town” (from the little-known musical Jennie by Jack DeLon) and “I’ll Take Manhattan” (Rogers & Hart) painted the backdrop for a celebration of the Night Club, and we were off to an evening of jazz, with a dose of the unexpected. From “Moonlight Becomes You” to a bossa nova arrangement of “The Fool on the Hill” (yes, that one), Pizzarelli and Molaskey were both daring in their choices and faithful to the spirit of the repertoire.
Good musicians perform a song; excellent musicians bring out heretofore unseen color, revealing unexpected facets. One such revelation was Pizzarelli’s arrangement of the melody from the heartbreaking final sextet “Some Other Time” from On The Town (Comden/Green/Bernstein). Pizzarelli condensed the drama of the piece into a thoughful guitar solo. I challenge anyone not to cry.
For her part, in addition to starring on Broadway, Molaskey has a flair for writing lyrics. She displayed her wit in songs like the delightful, satirical tune “I’m Hip” (Bob Dogouth) and the Comden and Greene tune “Readers Digest.”
The music flowed so easily, it was like hanging out late night in a quiet corner of NYC, with the luxury of the Carlyle. Molaskey and Pizzarelli have sung at the Carlyle for years, but it was back in the day that Pizzarelli had his first gig there. He and his father Bucky, another legendary musician, subbed in for Bobby Short, the Carlyle’s mainstay and quintessential supper club performer. What a poetic full circle.
I have never really listened to much jazz guitar, but Pizzarelli could make a convert of me. He plays with expert precision and joy. Utterly secure musically, he works in full partnership with the other members of his trio, Isaiah J. Thompson on piano and Michael Karn on bass. Thompson is a virtuoso on the 88s, playing with effortless dexterity. On standing bass, Karn shows off how essential that instrument is to the texture of jazz, both anchoring the sound and making its unique voice known. The three are a killer combo.
As the evening drew to a close, Pizzarelli took a moment to pivot from gleeful to delicate, James Taylor-tinged guitar/vocal arrangement of “You’ve Got to be Taught,” (Rogers & Hammerstein). It was inspired. Thus, Molaskey and Pizzarelli exited on an understated high note.
This is a must-see show. Buy your tickets now.