Loar's show isn't the first time someone has connected Arlen to Ellington. In fact, in 1965, The Duke and his orchestra played Arlen's "Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" in a 60th Birthday tribute to Arlen on the Bell Telephone Hour TV show hosted by Dinah Shore. In 1990, pianist Andre Previn (with guitarists Mundell Lowe and Joe Pass) produced an album merging Arlen and Ellington classics. And one of the interesting subtexts of Loar's show--which she should flesh out a bit in future dates--once again explores the strong affinity that assimilated Jewish pop songwriters had for the music of African-American jazz musicians. This connection is often explored in popular culture in films like The Jolson Story, which depicts a young Al Jolson becoming a "jazz singer" after experiencing the "new" music he discovers in the bowels of New Orleans, and in The Glenn Miller Story, which shows young, white big band musicians like Miller and drummer Gene Krupa jamming with Louis Armstrong and other black jazz greats at Harlem's famous Cotton Club.
In fact, as Loar points out during her show, the Cotton Club is where, between 1930-34, Arlen and one of his most frequent lyric collaborators Ted Koehler wrote songs for jazz band leaders like Ellington and Cab Calloway, creating enough material (like the classic "Stormy Weather") for two shows per year. Loar, who is a fine songwriter and introduces her own solid material in every show, used this bit of musical history as the inspiration for composing a title song to tie together this immensely enjoyable set. In the jazzy story song about Harry and The Duke trying to write a tune together that wouldn't quite work, Loar's clever lyrics included titles of famous Arlen and Ellington songs and ended with "No one will ever know, why the music didn't flow/Between the A Train and the Rainbow." Rosie's take? "Yes, they're human."
The music and Loar's vocals certainly flowed on the wild "Quando Swing," which has become one of her standards (it was featured on her 2008 CD of the the same name) and is a mashup of an Italian opera aria with Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." From the Arlen songbook, Loar was poignantly vulnerable on "Ill Wind," sweetly seductive on "Out of This World," and subtly soulful on two Arlen/Truman Capote ballads from the 1954 musical House of Flowers (and that became standards in the Barbra Streisand repertoire) "I Never Has Seen Snow," and her encore "Sleepin' Bee." After Rosemary delivers the last line, "When my one true love, I has found," she definitely isn't faking it when she then breathlessly tells her audience, "I have found my true love . . . and it's singing for you."
I'll have what she's having.
Rosemary Loar will be performing When Harry Met The Duke at the Metropolitan Room on Sunday, January 27, Wednesday, January 30, and Friday, February 22 all at 7pm. The Metropolitan Room is on 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues). Call 212-206-0440 for reservations.