In basketball they called it the “Dream Team” (1992 American Olympians), in baseball it was referred to as “Murderers’ Row” (1927 Yankee lineup). Those monikers denoted the finest collection of talent that one could assemble. If you’re a pop/jazz connoisseur, having Clint Holmes and Billy Stritch performing side by side (with Christian Tamburr on piano) reaches that level of supremacy. Last night on the Wick stage these celebrated entertainers presented their tribute to Nat King Cole titled “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and it was a masterclass in musical expertise and show biz excitement.
The voice print of Nat King Cole is so distinct, and as a result it’s a daunting task to separate the song from the man. However, Clint Holmes and Billy Stritch honored the Cole songbook, channeled it through their own styles and presented it vocally in a fresh, personal, yet classic way. These seasoned musicians have great “ears” so harmonizing was effortless, key changes were subtly unpretentious, and phrasing was enthralling. At times I was rhythmically and tonally perplexed thinking “how did they do that”? Both performers are capable of creating new significance to familiar melodies and lyrics while keeping the spine of a tune intact.
Christian Tamburr is a virtuoso pianist/vibraphonist/arranger. Just as the score of a movie sets the right mood and doesn’t hinder the primary theme, Christian’s backup complimented but never inhibited the inventiveness of Billy & Clint. However, watch out when Christian takes a solo…. It’s a breathtaking ocean of notes.
Billy, when his fingers are on the keyboard generates more of a harmonically based accompaniment than Nat King Cole’s signature fluent percussive style, but conversely Billy’s melodic lines almost become tunes within themselves.
There were many highlights in this show, but memorable for me were Clint’s haunting vocal and narrative for “Nature Boy” and Stritch’s wistful rendition of “Somewhere Along The Way”. Yes, this Nat King Cole Tribute was “Unforgettable – In Every Way”
Extraordinary events bring out extraordinary audiences. Attending last night’s performance were 12 time Grammy Award Nominee and inductee into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as member of the Four Seasons, the legendary arranger of more Top Ten Hits Records than any arranger (39) Charles Calello, Ken Greenblatt (44 Tony Awards Producing Company) Nicole Henry super singer, Craig Neier super agent, and Board Member of Dick Robinson’s Society for the Preservation of The Great American Songbook, Eda Sorokoff