Almost live from New York

Just back from New York, I want to note the shows we saw over the past three nights.
On Thursday we caught St. Paul native Dave Frishberg playing with Rebecca Kilgore at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency. Frishberg left the Twin Cities to make his mark on the jazz scene in New York in the late 1950′s, and he’s still going strong. Perhaps most notable as the composer of classic songs such as “Peel Me a Grape” and “My Attorney Bernie,” Frishberg is a witty composer, an inventive accompanist and a living jazz institution.
“I’m used to puzzled applause,” Frishberg said with some modesty after his opening number, but his material was almost perfectly self-explanatory and, I thought, fully appreciated by his audience (though my daughter observed that no one enjoyed the show more than I did). Seeing Frishberg perform in this New York setting was special.
In recent years Frishberg has teamed up with Kilgore, a cabaret singer with great taste and love for the popular music of the ’30′s, ’40′s and ’50′s. Frishberg performed his own songs for the first half of the set, then played second banana while Kilgore took the spotlight. Frishberg and Kilgore had just come from recording a segment to be broadcast on NPR this fall in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Johnny Mercer. Among the highlights of the show were Kilgore’s rendition of Mercer’s “Namely You,” from Li’l Abner, and a heartfelt medley of a few of Mercer’s best-known songs. This was a beautiful show.
On Friday evening we attended Steely Dan’s performance of “The Royal Scam” and selected favorites at New York’s magnificent Beacon Theater on the upper west side. Steely Dan has settled in for eight nights at the Beacon, performing one or another of three classic albums. Fagen and Becker have assembled an awesome band led by musical director Jon Herington on guitar.
The ten-piece band (including Fagen and Becker) includes four horns that really spiced up the arrangements. Three ladies provided the capable backing vocals. Was Herington responsible for the horn charts? They were excellent. For Friday’s set guitar whiz Larry Carlton joined the ensemble. Carlton had performed on the original album and contributed a famous solo or two on it. He’ll be moving over to the Blue Note for his own show over a couple of nights later this week.
The house was packed with Steely Dan fanatics. I don’t think there was a song in the two-hour set that didn’t have at least 25 percent of the audience singing along. Fagen had canceled Wednesday’s show because of a summer cold with which he contended manfully on Friday night. He had plenty of vocal support and held up without audible strain for the two-hour set.

The set culminated in a rousing performance of “My Old School” (2006 video above), Fagen and Becker’s jaundiced look back at their alma mater, among other things. Unlike the singer of that song, my daughter wasn’t “smoking with the boys upstairs” in the balcony where she was sitting, but the friendly Steely Dan fans in the row behind her offered to share their joint with her while I was sitting downstairs with my attorney friend Kirk Kolbo. Thanks, guys!
On Saturday night we caught the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” at the Richard Rodgers Theater. The show portrays a Washington Heights neighborhood scene of striving immigrants grasping for their piece of the American dream. It’s full of vibrant music and irresistible production numbers. The show leaves no cliche unturned, but this musical lives. We loved it.
One footnote: The most recent recording by local favorite Connie Evingson — “Little Did I Dream” –is devoted to Dave Frishberg’s songs. Frishberg returned home to provide instrumental support on the recording. Frishberg is joined on the disc by his old University of Minnesota buddy Dave Karr on sax. It’s a wonderful introduction to Frishberg’s work.

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