By Holli Harms
The discovery of something new, something that changes us for the better, is a gift of wonder that I think none of us would take for granted. I discovered Tony Yazbeck at 54 Below and am beyond the beyond with that wonder of a gift.
Yazbeck is not just a singer with amazing range and voice, he is also a tap dancer who has the ease and phenomenal talent of Gregory Hines. He is smooth and gravity-defying like Hines. Yazbeck’s tapping is not only dance it’s singing, it’s call and response to the music of his remarkable pianist, music director, and friend for the past ten years Jerome Korman. I have nothing to compare the night to as it was one musical surprise after another. When an astronomer discovers a new star system that feeling must be beyond anything else and difficult to describe in words. Maybe a sound would be better – a cheer, a whoop, a holler to that discovery.
My table mates already knew of Yazbeck and his talents and were there to unearth more, but they looked at the stage and with disappointment in their voices said, “Oh we were hoping for dancing but it looks too tight a space.” I said had not seen dancing on the 54 Below stage in all the times I’ve been there, and so probably not. Little did any of us naysayers know what sorcery Yazbeck could conjure.
The songs, all part of the American songbook, are deep songs whose sounds touch the heart and soul.
He opened with “Sunny Side of the Street” and next Korman hit some of the most known and iconic opening notes to a song in this city and every Big Apple heart began to flutter with “New York, New York” by Bernstein, Comden, & Green,
Yazbek grew up in Pennsylvania, but New York was his dream and it is clear that he still pinches himself that he not only gets to live in the greatest city in the world but perform with some of its most talented artists. One of them, Jerome Korman, who carried the music beyond the keyboard and bathed the audience in its joyous celebratory musicality.
For the evening Yazbeck invited two friends to join him on stage, Morgan James and Andrew Nemr. Morgan, an amazing singer-songwriter, took the stage and she and Yazbeck brought the house down with “Hallelujah I Love Her So” by Ray Charles, Morgan singing, and Yazbeck tapping. Then Morgan took the full spotlight and she and Korman turned “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” made famous by Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, into a new star system in the night sky right next to Yazbeck’s.
Andrew Nemr is a fellow tap dancer in the same realm as Yazbek with a little added street fairy dust to his moves. Together Nemr and Yazbek called forth story and sound of intense truth and primal wonderment. Nemr took over the stage and we were all in awe, again, for the third time in one night!
These were not performances so much as remarkably talented and lovely people sharing with all of us their art, sharing with each other their joy, and creating new lights in the heavens. It was a spectacular evening.
54 below 254 West 54 Street Cellar NYC 10019