Steve Tyrell

November 17, 2009

Steve Tyrell

Café Carlyle  –  November 10 – December 30

Although he says he takes no requests, Steve Tyrell gives the audience what it wants. And sometimes he even takes requests—or makes it look as if he does. At the Saturday night late set I attended at the Café Carlyle, he obliged a vocal ringsider who requested Sinatra songs. (Yes, Virginia, they’re still calling out for Sinatra, as Michael Bublé can also probably tell you.) So the agreeable Tyrell sang three Cole Porter ditties back to back: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (which Ol’ Blue Eyes always jockeyed around) and “Night and Day.”

What that satisfied customer might not have realized is that Tyrell was also saluting Cole-Porter-loving Bobby Short, who had the room’s holiday slot for years before his 2005 death. What that satisfied customer also might not have considered is that Tyrell—now in his fifth year at the CC—may seem in style and taste very different from his venerated predecessor, but the two have one significant trait in common: joy.

To quote centennial-year-celebrant Johnny Mercer’s lyric to “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” both Short and Tyrell make it a point to “spread joy up to the maximum.” Not something, by the way, that Tyrell seemed to have uppermost in his mind during the first two songs that late show, when as he typically paced the small stage, he gave the impression of doing things by the numbers. Immediately after that, however, he became his entertaining self. The easy and thoroughly genuine Tyrell smile was in place, and the baritone held sway—the vocal equivalent of Fred Astaire doing that form of tap dance known as a “sand shuffle.”

So what did Tyrell’s audience want that he so generously gave them? He apparently thought they’d like to hear an in-person reprise of his first CD, “A New Standard”—the one that was released as a result of his soundtrack work in Father of the Bride (Parts I and II).

He was so certain they’d enjoying reliving the aural experience that right through to the eleventh selection—after which he slotted his Sinatra tribute—he intoned the “A New Standard” numbers in the order in which they appear on the CD. Yup, he started with “Give Me the Simple Life” (Harry Ruby-Rube Bloom) and proceeded through to ‘I’ve Got the World on a String” (Ted Koehler-Harold Arlen), which is, of course, a Sinatra signature ditty.

Tyrell lent every one his melisma-free chanting and deceptively careful phrasing, which, as usual, meant that the emotions of the disparate selections were not uppermost in his thoughts, but the appeal of melody and lyric was. Incidentally, Tyrell’s appreciation of word and music is not hard to miss. He mentions composer and lyricist on every song—”the great Irving Berlin” just one phrase illustrating his wide-ranging devotion.

Perhaps more than anyone singing today, Tyrell stands jubilantly for the 32-bar song, which he delivers in the time-honored tradition—once through, then musician’s-only break, then return to the bridge and on out—often with a gritty, gutsy sustained final note. Why, it’s as comforting as Mom’s home cooking. Let’s just say that new venue-fixture Tyrell—swinging plenty, thanks to musicians Quinn Johnson, Kevin Minard, Matt Fronke, Dave Mann—is not coming up short. To the contrary, he’s decidedly coming up Short.


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