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A tribute to Cole Porter at the Jazz Kitchen

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Hosted by YATS’ purveyor of cheer Joe Vuskovich (with kibitzing by wife Gina), this show was the perfect way to close out the month of May. Backed by the Gary Walters Trio with Walters on piano, Thomas Brinkley on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums, the arc of the evening took us through the Cole Porter’s distinctive 40-year writing career across the 1920s through the 1960s and showed why he still impacts our musical experiences. Kiss Me, Kate won the first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949; the 1934 Anything Goes hit Broadway again in 2011 —12 for 500 performances, was an ISO POPS concert version standout at the Hilbert Circle Theatre a year ago, followed by a sparkly full production at Beef & Boards. Any one of his 40 musicals is up someplace every day.

The arc of the revue proved why Porter’s sophisticated lyrics and music continue to touch us. Gail Payne opened with a feel of Paris, and an understanding of Porter’s personal struggle to fit into expectations and still be who he is. She brought pathos and joy to "My Love for You". Kaitlyn Rebee followed up with a spunky "Why Can’t You Behave."

Steven Stolen made his Jazz Kitchen debut with a memorable "Miss Otis Regrets" — whose origins hark back to a dark side of U.S. history and merge with a cowboy’s lament. Stolen’s perfect timing takes us into the rapid-fire episode of Miss Otis, whose hanging is just cause for not showing up at lunch. Stolen delivered "Every Time I Say Good-bye I Die a Little" with luscious sentiment, eschewing any trace of sentimentality.

The trio segued into a perfect Porter jazz collaboration. then Joe introduced Duncan Alney who cradled the microphone, and reminding me of Jimmy Durante’s ploy gained our empathy with an admission, “I’m slightly talented, medium good-looking; I‘m hoping my story will be better than my song.” Of course he charmed us with comic relief.

Erin Benedict took us into the lesser known sway of Porter and then the inimitable Brenda Williams owned the stage and captivated the essence of cabaret as an intimate revelation. Binging us back to Gail Payne’s portrait, Williams framed Porter’s honesty with the soulful "You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To" and comedic "Lost Liberty Blues."

George Benn vamped What is this Thing Called Love and scatted the closing of "Begin the Beguine." Wendy Read closed the event perfectly with what has become the Cole Porter signature, "Night and Day." It’s Porter defying the usual and turning the unusual into commonplace. A single note carries the melody while the rhythm change-ups opens the song up for unlimited interpretations.

For a first-time Joe venture, the packed Jazz Kitchen proves if you present it, they will come, echoing the daring that created both Jazz Kitchen and YATS some two decades ago again opening 54th and College as a destination place after the lamentable closing of Atlas Super Market. (How long will it take for a marker designating: “David Letterman Worked Here"?)


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