THE FUTURE is where we are headed, like it or not. And, generally, it's where we want to be. But sometimes it's nice to turn back the clock and remember how things were, say, between the end of World War II and the emergence of the Beatles. Back then, unlike today, show business was primarily for and by grown-ups. "Youth culture" meant kids playing with dolls or toy trucks. Every big city had at least one room where, late at night, adults could listen to sophisticated music as they ate, drank and smoked cigars and cigarettes. Well, smoking in public places may be relegated to the ashtray of history, but Center City does boast a place where you can get a taste of how lounge life used to be: The Prime Rib restaurant inside the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel.
Every Saturday night from 10:15 till closing, the upscale steak house, a favorite of the local power crowd, presents the All-Star Jazz Trio under the banner of "Late Night Lounge at the Leopard Room" (so named for the space's big-cat-inspired decor). The All-Stars are composed of three veteran musicians, pianist-vocalist Andy Kahn, bassist Bruce Kaminsky and drummer Bruce Klauber. The unit is certainly not a dance band, but neither does it provide mere musical wallpaper for diners.
"Doing it late-night is different," Kahn said. "It's a different atmosphere, a different mood. The whole atmosphere changes the minute I hit that first note. It's show business then. We're here to entertain, to get people to snap their fingers and bob their heads and want to stay here." Other venues around town and in the region are also dipping into the jazz songbook and the late-night vibe. And while the audience at the Late Night Lounge skews older and affluent (not surprising, given The Prime Rib's expense-account level price points), this scene is also finding fans beyond the AARP crowd. "The kids are into jazz and pop standards now," Kahn said. "Youth is always rebelling against their parents' music; their parents' music is rock 'n' roll. . . . They're looking for something else, and they've discovered jazz through Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. and Tony Bennett singing with Lady Gaga."
According to Tom Moon, Kahn's right on the money. The NPR music critic (and former Inquirer pop-music writer) is also a saxophonist whose Brazilian-jazz group, Ensemble Novo, has a once-a-month residency at Time, a popular Midtown Village restaurant-bar. "With the influx of young people moving here, there's been this increasing demand for different kinds of bars and venues, including those that offer live music in comfortable surroundings," Moon said. "All you have to do is walk around Center City or Northern Liberties at midnight on a Wednesday or Thursday to know that there's a market. People are out, they've maybe just had an awesome meal and are looking for a place to hang, talk and encounter music that's different from the typical DJ thing."
All that jazz
For those whose antennae quiver at the word "jazz," the All-Star Jazz Trio's music is not meant to impress with the kind of dissonant, experimental sounds and supersonic-speed playing that appeals to snobs and purists.
That's not to say these cats can't jam. They're seasoned musicians, and their sets are primarily instrumental. But from the first chord to the last, the All-Stars are planted firmly in the musical mainstream.
On a recent Saturday night, the set list included numerous tunes familiar to even casual jazz fans, including the Gershwins' " 'S Wonderful"; Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train"; "That Old Black Magic," by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen; and "My Funny Valentine," by Rodgers and Hart. Sure the group occasionally digs a little deeper into its trunk - “Li’l Darlin’" by Neal Hefti, perhaps best known as the composer of the iconic theme song to the 1960s TV series, "Batman," was performed that evening - but that is the exception, not the rule. "The repertoire is based mostly on the Great American Songbook," Kahn offered. "It's jazz for the people, not hard-core. It's more . . . melodic, swingin', toe-tapping. It doesn't get avant-garde, it doesn't sound like people dropping trash cans."
Room to grow
The "Late Night Lounge" opened last November, when The Prime Rib managing partner Garth Weldon finally relented after years of entreaties by Kahn and prominent customers, including Frank Giordano, president and CEO of the Philly POPS. All insisted there was a need for such late-night entertainment, and that the way The Prime Rib is set up made it a perfect venue for a small jazz band. "Several customers have told me over the years, 'There's no place to go in this area after theater, after dinner,' " Weldon noted.
Kahn was in a perfect position to create the Saturday night program. Not only has he been a go-to player in Philly for more than three decades, but he was already part of The Prime Rib family. For years, he and his life partner, Bruce Cahan, dined nightly at the restaurant. And Kahn took over the Thursday night dinner shift in 2012, upon the death of celebrated pianist Don Wilson. So far, admitted Weldon, "The people who are here, stay here. Revenue is offsetting expenses, but it's growing."
As musicians, Kahn, Kaminsky and Klauber - who also perform every Wednesday at Square on Square in the Rittenhouse area - are thrilled to have a regular gig. But the importance of the Late Night Lounge transcends merely having an audience to entertain, Kahn said. That's why he said he won't mind if the concept becomes so successful it spawns multiple imitators and competition for the All-Stars. The group, he said, is "clearly all about disseminating this music, Not only because we love to play it, but because it needs to be kept alive. This is a major focus of mine. If somebody else wants to do it, they're only going to validate what we're doing.”
JERSEY JAZZ JOURNAL
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
Metropolitan Room, New York!
April 29, 2014
By Joe Lang
Many people of a certain age remember viewing The George Gobel Show, a popular television show in the 1950s. One of the most appealing aspects of the show were the segments when Gobel introduced “pretty, perky Peggy King,” and we were treated to tasteful vocalizing from this fine singer. That was not her only mass exposure as a performer, but it was that credit which comes to mind when most of us hear her name.While she continued to have a career in music, King’s recorded output was far too limited for a singer of her quality. She was among the many talented vocalists pushed to the margins by the onset of rock, and the changing tastes in popular music. By the early 1960s, she took a leave of absence from her singing career to raise a family. Two memorable albums by King released on the Stash label in the mid-1980s heralded her return to performing.
Now 84, Peggy King has once again resumed singing for audiences. Last year she joined forces with pianist Andy Kahn and his All-Star Jazz Trio for a few performances in her hometown of Philadelphia. The response was enthusiastic, and she has subsequently started to make the scene in New York. Based on her April 29 appearance at the Metropolitan Room, there should be banner headlines shouting “Welcome Back Peggy King!” The set opened with a few swinging selections by Kahn, bassist Bruce Kaminsky and drummer Bruce Klauber, a group aptly named the All-Star Jazz Trio.. These gentlemen play regularly in Philadelphia, and are a tight group. Kahn is a terrific improviser, and proved to be an equally adept accompanist when Peggy King arrived on stage, following a video clip of her singing “You Took Advantage of Me” from a 1950s Steve Allen TV show. From her opening number, “While We’re Young,” it was apparent that King still produces vocal magic. Her voice was smooth and strong, her phrasing was exquisite, and she exuded a warmand relaxed presence.
As she proceeded through her program, singing one fine tune after another, King provided an occasional anecdote that enhanced the performance. She mentioned that Arthur Hamilton first approached her with his new song, “Cry Me a River,” believing it to be well-suited to her, but it was rejected by the man who controlled material at Columbia records, Mitch Miller, who dismissed the song by stating that “we will never record a song at Columbia records that includes the word plebian!” Of course his judgment in this case proved to be faulty, as it went on to become a great standard that was recorded countless times, most memorably by Julie London. She then gave a masterful reading of the song. King proved to be equally comfortable with rhythm songs and ballads. She included many wonderful tunes that seem to be mostly overlooked today, selections like “Born to Be Blue,” “Wait Till You See Him,” Maybe You’ll Be There,” and “What Is There to Say,” the last serving as her closing piece.
The synergy between Peggy King and The All-Star Jazz Trio was just what you like to experience when attending a performance like this. They were obviously having a fun time, andthat effectively transferred itself to the audience. King, like other stellar performers such as Marilyn Maye and Pinky Winters, has retained the performing excellence that was first exhibited when she hit the scene over 60 years ago. Now it is time for Peggy King to get back into a recording studio, and spread her tasty vocalizing to a wider audience.
54 Below - NYC December 30, 2013
Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr. for Theater Pizzazz
For those of us of a certain age, we remember Peggy King as “pretty, perky Peggy King” of the George Gobel Show, one of the big hit television series of the 1950’s. She was also a stellar Columbia Records recording star, guest starred on several great 50s television series, and appeared in many Broadway musicals on the road and especially at the St. Louis Muni. Contemporary people will recognize her from her recent vocal appearance in the HBO special “Behind the Candelabra” on which she sang “When Liberace Winks At Me.” King, now in her early 80s, lived for many years in Philadelphia, had not sung in public for many, many years. She retired from singing when she married prominent Pennsylvania businessman Samuel Rudofker of After Six Formal Wear. Now widowed, one night she walked into a local jazz club and became impressed with the All-Star-Jazz-Trio, a group consisting of Andy Kahn, piano, Bruce Kaminsky, bassist, and Bruce Klauber, drums. Inspired by their playing, King contacted them and began to sit in with the trio at their local gigs. The act at 54 Below, which was attended by many New York cabaret performers, composers and critics, began with a wonderful series of trio instrumentals: “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Lil Darling” (featuring Kaminsky,) “Yesterdays” (piano solo by Kahn) and “Caravan” which spotlighted Klauber. Then we were treated to a video clip from a television appearance of a young Peggy King on the Steve Allen TV Show doing a great swing version of “You Took Advantage of Me.” King made her entrance onstage at 54 Below, singing “While We’re Young,” demonstrating that her voice has lost none of its special purity. There didn’t seem to be changes in keys as some singers are forced to do when they reach her age, and her phrasing and acting chops were a revelation. She gave a brief history of her years as a band singer for Charlie Spivak and how she auditioned and won the female singer part in a Mel Torme TV Series. She described how much she learned from Torme and honored him by singing a great version of his “Born To Be Blue.” What followed was a series of her own personal favorites, most of them sung with the unfamiliar verses. When she sang “Where or When,” the years melted away right in front of your eyes and she was suddenly the young Peggy King we all remembered. She also did a wonderful thing that I have only heard Beryl Davis do years ago on live TV on Peter Potter‘s “Juke Box Jury.“ After she had sung the familiar chorus of the song, and her great musicians did their virtuoso work on the melody, she sang the verse before she sang her second full chorus. Kahn’s arrangements and accompaniment were exquisite on this song, and every other one! Arthur Hamilton was a good friend of hers, and he wrote one song especially for her which Mitch Miller wouldn’t let her record. “Cry Me A River” was a tour de force of dramatic intensity and muted power. And her second Hamilton selection was “Any Questions,” which was the only full musical number ever presented during Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” series. Almost all the standards sung were performed with the seldom sung verses and she elicited Brava’s after several tunes. Brought back for the crowd-demanded encore, she chose an obscure Vernon Duke-E. Y. Harburg number that she had given to Kahn only two weeks ago, stating that she was a good friend of “Yip.” It was the beautiful “What Is There To Say,” and she artfully negotiated Harburg’s tricky but appropriate rhymes. One of her future engagements will be a celebration of her 84th Birthday at the RRazzRoom in New Hope, Pennsylvania on February 16th. There are several of her 2013 appearances on youtube.com and you can see her performing with The All-Star-Jazz-Trio. All I can say, is welcome back Peggy King! We need this kind of purity today!