Jazz at Kitano – August 8
Leading off the “About Marc” page on singer-composer Marc Eliot’s website is a quotation from the widow of Sammy Davis Jr. She claims that when she listened to Eliot’s recording of Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s “Come Back to Me,” she thought she was hearing her late husband singing. That’s understandable. Though Eliot performed jazz-inflected material at the Kitano club, he also came off in some ways as a theatre singer. Eliot (who has, in fact, worked as an actor) seems to me to fit squarely into the tradition of such entertainers from the 1960s as Davis and Steve Lawrence—guys that could work on a Broadway stage with the same ease they possessed when singing over the clanking of flatware in resort venues.
Eliot is a tall fellow with strong, expressive features—including a love-happy smile. He opens his mouth wide when he sings, and he has considerable lungpower. At points in his Kitano set (which ran about 50 short minutes), he sat and sang with the microphone between his knees. Amplification, shmamplification. Eliot might have ditched the mic altogether and sung the whole set unplugged. Though he was performing in a relatively small club, he sometimes seemed to be gazing out from behind a proscenium arch and reaching out to listeners in the balcony.
There were little theatrical touches throughout his performance that some purely jazz-oriented singers might have forgone. For instance, he set up “I Thought About You” (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer) as a song about a long-distance relationship in which he regularly traveled from the city by train to see his girlfriend. With the words “at every stop that we made,” he rolled his eyes and inserted a spoken “eww!” to signify his disgust with the tedium of rail travel. Occasionally he wriggled his shoulders and flirted with his listeners. Eliot didn’t just groove on the vibe of the music—he worked the audience, too.
A baritone, Eliot is much more at home in the lower part of his range. It’s on those deeper notes, I’d wager, that Mrs. Davis thought she was hearing Sammy. The higher part of Eliot’s register sounded somewhat thinner and a bit nasal at times—for instance, during his take on “Baby, Dream Your Dream” (Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields). But why complain about a few tchotchkes from the attic when you’re getting all those wonderful treasures from the basement?
Most of the songs Eliot sang in the set that I heard (his second of two that evening) were swinging mid-tempo numbers, effectively backed by Dan Rosengard on piano, Leo Huppert on bass, and Jack Cavari on guitar. “Pick Yourself Up” (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields) included a pulsing accompaniment by Cavari, while “A Beautiful Friendship” (Donald Kahn, Stanley Styne) featured Huppert prominently. “Wanna show off?” Eliot asked as the bassist started his solo during the number. Huppert complied with an effectively thumping turn.
Eliot’s “anthem,” the self-penned “New York Blue” (with lyrics by Gerry Olin Greengrass), seemed to be delivered at a faster clip than the singer uses on his recording of the song—a wise choice, as it somehow made Greengrass’s rhyming of “Cloisters” with “oysters” seem a likeable Cole-Porterish giggle instead of a reverie-marring clinker. His principal ballad during the set was “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (David Mann, Bob Hilliard). It sounded fine, but it somehow lacked the richness and intensity I was expecting and hoping for. He rebounded with the aforementioned “Come Back to Me,” which was paired with Leslie Bricusse’s “After Today” (from the 1967 Doctor Dolittle film). Rosengard’s charming, chiming playing here helped make for a strong finish. Eliot performed the number stirringly.
I hope the next time I see Eliot, it will be in a more cabaret-oriented format, rather than a straight-ahead jazz set. I’d like to see what he could do working with a carefully crafted program of songs in which he mines lyrical nuance—giving full vent to his skills for dramatic interpretation as well as his musicianship.
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.