Review: KT Sullivan and Bill Zeffiro at the Crazy Coqs

KT Sullivan. Photo Credit: Marcos Bevilacqua

KT Sullivan and Bill Zeffiro
(Crazy Coqs Room at Brasserie Zedel. 4th December – opening night. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

KT Sullivan‘s show in the Art Deco splendour of the Crazy Coqs felt like… one of those occasions when everybody…definitely doesn’t know everybody else yet. A few introductions might be necessary…

First I’d like you to meet KT Sullivan.  She is a cabaret singer in the mould of a singing actress, or as the New York Times said in 2011, a “fearless and complex singing character actor.” She is the kind of performer who makes you wonder why, where and when it was, that superb comic timing and perfect diction went out of fashion. She stays close to the mic, the accent is on word-painting rather than vocal power or display. There is authenticity, honesty and realquality about the performance. Sullivan is a self-professed Anglophile – I was thinking Joyce Grenfell or Angela Lansbury when she said that. She is a performer who above all believes in, and reveres the material she has to perform, and promotes it, and the age from which it came.

Which leads to more introductions. Sullivan was intent on introducing us via the songs to their composers – Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Noel Coward, but she did this in the context of a tribute to the cabaret singers’ cabaret singer herself:  Mabel Mercer. To those of outside the world of cabaret, Mercer does indeed need an introduction. She was performer with an extraordinary life story and who – if I understood correctly – was either the dedicatee of, or the inspiration for an extraordinary selection of songs which have become classics: Love For Sale,  Fly Me to the Moon, Just One of Thise Things. Frank Sinatra said of her, memorably:  “Everything I learnt, I learnt from Mabel Mercer.”

Mabel Mercer was born in 1900 in Burton-on-Trent, was mixed-race, and attended a convent school in Manchester. Her career took her to Paris and to the US where she died in 1987. On Youtube there are clips of her singing Porter’s De-Lovely and Experiment, both of which are in Sullivan’s show, and delivered with a similar approach to the words, mulling them, savouring them, rising to the challenge of casting them forth. Sullivan is a leading light behind the Mabel Mercer Foundation.

Another introduction is necessary: Bill Zeffiro is one of those incredibly busy New York-based pianist-arrangers who leads such a full musical life, he has no reason to stray beyond the five boroughs. In fact this was his first visit to London. Ever. He was a sensitive, alert accompanist throughout, and deserves to be better known here. His solo spot was a gem: Zeffiro’s self-deprecatory song “Lower Your Expectations (With Me)“, was one which Dave Frishberg could have/ (would have been pleased to) write and call his own. It was one of the highlights of the evening.

I also made a new acquaintance: I’d like you to meet In Other Words. It’s the original 3/4 version of Fly Me To The Moon , sung by Sullivan as a sprightlier waltz than Kaye Ballard does it here. I guess that once this tune had strutted out into 4/4, once Quincy Jones had got hold of it, once Sinatra had sung it, swung it with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Sands, it would never be the same. To hear the original brought to mind a period of greater gentility. Which is very much the mood you get taken back to in the intimacy of the 66-seater Crazy Coqs room. Consider yourselves introduced.

KT Sullivan will be performing the Mabel Mercer show for the remainder of this week, and will be joined by Steve Ross next week ending December 15th.

Categories: miscellaneous

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