Is it just me or did Covid temporarily suck the cool from the city? Gone were the days when strangers would gather snugly into a posh room while they sipped cocktails in the warm glow of ambient lighting and listened to live music.
Well, pandemic be damned.
On Thursday night, that cool came rushing back to life, thanks to one crazy talented cat: Billy Stritch. This weekend, the Texas native is turning 60 and is celebrating with several shows at the Birdland Theater. He’s also invited some friends to join the party.
Stritch is no stranger to the jazz/cabaret scene, having performed countless solo shows and recording several albums. He has also accompanied other stage greats including Marilyn Maye and Liza Minelli. Suffice it to say, he knows his way around the ivories.
Stritch opened his show with the American standard, “Old Devil Moon”, followed by the Cy Coleman classic, “The Best is Yet to Come.” Coleman’s music would appear later in the show as Stritch recalled a song the late composer played one night at a party thrown by Minelli. “Let Me Down Easy” was originally to be used for a musical that never transpired. The late Carolyn Leigh (a bad ass in her own right) penned the lyrics to both songs.
Whether grooving to a bossa nova beat in “Upside Down (‘Flor de Lis)” or waxing philosophical in a pensive rendition of “I Can Dream Can’t I?”, Stritch is always in command of the keys and has the vocal warmth of a well worn winter coat.
On Thursday, he was joined by his long-time pal, Jim Caruso. For the last 18 years, the pair have hosted the chummy and cheery Cast Party, an open-mic for the theater set and their admirers. Caruso had the audience in stitches with the tune, “What Did You Do To Your Face?”, a riff on plastic surgery. The duo then joined each other for the Peggy Lee diddy, “A Doodlin’ Song.”
Broadway’s Max Von Essen also joined the festivities, sharing the title song from the Bock and Harnick musical, “She Loves Me.” Marilyn Maye, Klea Blackhurst, Sally Mayes, and Gabrielle Stravelli.
Stritch is not an over-the-top showman. He’s more akin to the late Bobby Short, who reigned supreme at the Carlyle hotel. Yet with much of his adult life spent in New York and the high-profile people he’s mingled with, one wishes that Stritch would share more anecdotes and insight into what has undoubtedly been an an exciting life lived.
Nonetheless, Stritch—along with Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums- renews our trust in the power of live music. For a guy turning 60, that’s pretty damn cool.
Billy Stritch will celebrate “Billy Stritch’s Big Birdland Birthday Bash!” at Birdland Jazz Club on Saturday, February 12 at 7:00 PM and 9:30 PM. The cover charge is $30. Birdland Jazz Club is located at 315 West 44th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues) in Manhattan. For reservations, please call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.BirdlandJazz.com