By: Nicole Itkin

Candles burn. The room fills up. Carole J. Bufford wanders out on stage.  

With a smirk, she sings: “It’s too darn hot.”

After the song, she gives an explanation of the evening, titled  “Divine Decadence” in a reference to Cabaret. She tells us she’s about to get into ten decades of music, songs about seeking pleasure, about finding decadence, about a sense of indulgence. 

As she sings, there are moments where I feel like I can see her dancing in moonlight, across gardens, in her bright green dress. There are other moments when I full torn out of the illusion, wanting her to take the songs for what they are, and to restrain from exaggerating them into what they could be. Still, she has my full attention at all times. She calls herself an “interpreter of song,” and that she is. 

Never does Bufford shine better or brighter than when she gives us a medley. In those moments, she simply sings, without any attempt to mimic or otherwise fight to take on the singer whose song she’s singing. My favorite of her medleys was a combination of “Ten Cents A Dance” and “Billie Jean,” the former by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart and the latter by Michael Jackson. It’s a fabulous mash up and it’s fun, a clear depiction of her style and her talent. 

As she sings, her facial expressions are ones to watch, as are the way she shimmies on stage. She dances as each member of her band takes a solo: music director Ian Herman on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Howie Gordon on drums. With a wave of her hand, she summons applause for them all. 

We all watch closely as she sings and as she stops between songs to tell us little stories. She tells us that she prefers songs from the mid 1900’s, relaying a story about her voice teacher at Ithaca College asking her to sing a contemporary song, to which she gleefully sang a contemporary song that sounded like it was from the mid 1900’s. 

Indeed most of the songs from the evening take us back to another time, but she does give us one contemporary song: Adele’s “When You Were Young,” another one of my favorite’s from the night. Bufford has a beautiful tone and stage presence, one that feels classical, reminiscent of an actor doing a dance sequence in the moonlight; the song, with well-known lyrics like “Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were” aligns with that feeling perfectly.  

In accordance with the slightly nostalgic flair that underpins the decadence of the evening, Bufford sings Carole King and Toni Stern’s famous breakup song “It’s Too Late.” She walks through all of the lows of that song, hitting us with those final words over and over: it’s too late. There’s a slow fade to black, leaving only her silhouette on stage. 

Throughout the evening, she depicts the transition from the highs of the roaring 20’s to the lows of the Great Depression, a warning that nothing can be too good or take you up too high without forcing you way, way back down. The divine she’s showing has a dark underside. 

In between songs, Bufford tells us her favorite quote from Arthur: “Isn’t this fun? Isn’t fun the best thing to have?” With that, she sings her final song, a tribute to Tony Bennett: “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” Certainly, that’s what she wants for us. As a last song, it was a great tribute and a great way to end the night. 



Divine Decadence

Birdland Theater July 21-23 (7:00 & 9:30)

Vocals: Carole J. Bufford

Piano & Musical Director: Ian Herman

Bass: Tom Hubbard

Drums: Howie Gordon


**All arrangements are by Carole J. Bufford & Ian Herman (unless otherwise notated)

  1. Too Darn Hot – Cole Porter (1948)
  2. Come By Me – Harry Connick, Jr. (1999)
  3. Blame It On The Summer Night – Charles Strouse & Stephen Schwartz (1986)
  4. When I Get Low (I Get High) – Marion Sunshine (1937) **arr. Larry Lees
  5. Cry Me A River – Arthur Hamilton (1955)
  6. You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse (2006)
  7. How Glad I Am – Larry Harrison & Jimmy Williams (1964)
  8. Won’t You Come Over to My House?/ Hurry On Down/ Come On Around To My House – Lee Holmes & Julia Lee (1929)/ Nellie Lutcher (1947)/ Blind Willie McTell (1929)
  1. It’s Too Late – Carole King & Toni Stern (1970)
  2. Ten Cents A Dance/ Billie Jean – Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart (1930)/ Michael Jackson (1982)
  3. Delicate – Damien Rice (2002)
  4. Cry To Me – Bert Russell (1961)
  5. Daddy/ Heart Belongs To Daddy/ Sugar Daddy – Bobby Troup (1941)/ Cole Porter (1938)/ Ray LaMontagne (2002)
  6. When We Were Young – Adele & Tobias Jesso, Jr. (2015)
  7. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out – Jimmie Cox (1927)
  8. Are You Havin’ Any Fun? – Sammy Fain & Jack Yellen