I just got back from an awesome cabaret performance by Tierney Sutton and Shelly Berg at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel in New York. It was an enchanting experience, even in the somewhat cramped confines of the venue (see below for more on this). I didn't take notes, but I think I have the complete set list in my head.
Tierney began with 'Skylark', really the most beautiful and compelling rendition of this Mercer-Carmichael collaboration I have ever heard. Then came Rodgers and Hart's 'Where or When', and another Carmichael tune, 'The Nearness of You', which was absolutely stunning in its gentleness. On Nearness, Shelly passed on a solo, not wanting to mar the perfect mood created by the vocals. Then followed the Sinatra favorite, 'How About You', in which Tierney did some fine scatting and Shelly went to town in the solo section.
Then followed three more ballads, each of them haunting in its own way: 'Laura', 'Love is Here to Stay' and 'Emily'. Tierney sang the verse of the Gershwin a capella before they both launched into the better-known chorus and totally aced it. Shelly's playing on these numbers was simply out of this world, crafting for each one a sensitive but striking arrangement. Then another Rodgers and Hart, 'It Never Entered My Mind', which Tierney rendered with a calm serenity that made the sadness of the lyric even more intense. Other great songs included 'Cheek to Cheek', 'You're Nearer', and 'You're too Marvellous for Words'.
The venue is a famous one, said to have launched the careers of such notables as Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall. I found the density of the dinner tables to be way overdone in the eagerness of the establishment to pack people in, and both my colleague and I and the couple sitting next to us had to strong-arm the captain into changing our seating arrangements. But nothing could spoil the astonishing spell cast by these two musicians as they casually made their way through the pages of the Great American Songbook with breath-taking style.