Christine Ebersole and Aaron Weinstein
Birdland – November 27, 28
There are some sturdy strings attaching singer/actress Christine Ebersole to Aaron Weinstein, a jazz violinist with a bent for comedy on the side. The two have more than a couple of qualities in common.
Ebersole, the chick singer in this jazz duo, pointed out that they both love apple pancakes and attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. She also admitted that they are more than a few years apart in age. Weinstein is now 26 and Ebersole… well, let’s just say she is somewhat older but has not reached that point where she would be called “legendary.” Both were dressed in suits, hers was a tuxedo over a silvery scoopneck shell, and he wore what we might describe as a suit conservative enough for his father. Of course, he included his signature bowtie, and as a nod to her partner’s unassuming style, Ebersole also wore a bowtie.
But that’s all superficial, isn’t it? More important is their shared sense of humor. Ebersole, with her engaging personality, a smile as bright as her hair, strong singing talent, and two Tony Awards (“42nd Street” and “Grey Gardens”), is also a gifted comic with a sly, quick wit that comes at you sideways. Weinstein’s dry wit shows a quiet introspective air reminiscent of an earlier era when radio entertainers depended on listeners, not pratfalls. He speaks softly, carefully, academically, with a smack of self-deprecation. One does not expect this neat, bespectacled lad cradling his violin to be so funny, but he is. If George Gershwin was his musical idol, the comic style of Jack Benny must have tickled his funny bone.
And, of course, they share musicality. Their recent show, “Strings Attached,” played two nights in Birdland, with the estimable Tedd Firth at the piano and Tom Hubbard on bass. From the top of the show, good humor and good jazz combined with flexible rhythms and nuances. Since the gig was conceived by Weinstein, he whimsically planned to open with a delivery of a thesis based on the avant-garde artistic ideas of Arnold Schoenberg. After briefly lecturing about delving musically into the emotion at the heart of human universality, or something like that, Weinstein turned to the violin and his trio for a tender “Somebody Loves Me” (George Gershwin, B.G. DeSylva, Ballard MacDonald) that quickly ignited into a heated driving rendition.
Ebersole strolled quietly onstage to join the group with a delivery of the challenging lyrics to “Jitterbug Waltz” (Fats Waller, Charles R. Grean, Maxine Manners). Best known for singing Broadway tunes and standards, Ebersole has on occasion also shown a facility with jazz. She easily sailed through the jaunty post-bop side trips of “If You Never Fall in Love With Me” (Sam Jones, Tommy Wolf). Versatility was evident in her thoughtful take on Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” with leisurely long lines and phrases of dramatic shading. The shivery emotion of this rendition was followed by Dave Frishberg’s brashly hilarious complaint “I Can’t Take You Nowhere” because “You stagger, you sag/ You’re half in the bag” and a lot of other unattractive qualities. Funny or poignant, Ebersole never hit a false note. Her tone was bright and her delivery was distinct with even the most twisted lyrics.
Incidentally, the violin is not Weinstein’s only instrument. Accompanying Ebersole in the big band oldie “Tangerine” (Johnny Mercer, Victor Schertzinger), Weinstein picked up the electric mandolin (“$3.95 at Trader Joe’s”). When they recognized the holiday season with “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” (Tom Lehrer), Ebersole said she’d considered using the song to audition for Golde in some upcoming production of Fiddler on the Roof.
After the show, when someone in the audience called out “More!”, Weinstein responded, “That’s a terrible song,” but happily, they were prepared with an encore, George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay.” Though Weinstein may have reprised his Arnold Schoenberg shtick a few times too many, musically, he and Ebersole morphed naturally into their songs and settled into symbiotic moods, creating an engaging hour of entertainment.