Great American Songbirds -- June 4, 2008
What is it about a quirky pop tune that ignites subconscious memory and inspires temporary glee, and makes even the worst singers among us totally dork out in public and burst into song?
Whatever that thing is, it inspired rec room alum Abby Cucci and her co-curator Ryan Brewster to bring rec room a night of music, dedicated to the American Songbook. As the show description illuminates: "The years between about 1920 and 1960 saw the emergence of new works of popular songwriting now known as the American Songbook. Catalyzed by the free-wheeling and nascent forms of Jazz music and fortified by the simple structures of Tin Pan Alley, the American Songbook has been rediscovered and reinterpreted by every generation since. Come take a stroll through the Songbook with some favorite Chicago songbirds. You'll hear classic melodies--Gershwin, Porter, Berlin--and remember why this music strikes a chord in all of us, year after year. "
As I sat in the back room of Black Rock Wednesday, June 4, the team of talented Chicago songbirds Cucci and Brewster assembled struck so many pleasant chords with me. I vacillated between broadly grinning, outright chuckling and downright laughing and bouncing up and down in my seat for: Brigette Ditmar’s pizzazz on “Accentuate the Positive”, Melissa Young’s refreshingly exuberant version of “On a Clear Day you Can See Forever”, Jonny Cunningham’s dangerously tongue-in-cheek take on “Let’s Do It”, as well as Cucci and Gerald Richardson’s charming rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”. And who wouldn’t be show-stopped by Bethany Thomas’s powerful, resonant version of “At Last”, or compelled by Vallea Woodbury’s sultry cover of “My Funny Valentine”, or moved by Richardson’s version of “Sophisticated Lady”, or delighted by Young and Stephanie Layton’s campy rendition of “Friendship”?
Seriously, people. There were so many things to be happy about with this show: the approachable cool of Rob Smith’s “One More for my Baby Tonight”, the unexpected poetry Jayson Brooks introduced to us in his cover of “Lush Life”. When the show closed with an ensemble version of “The Best is Yet To Come”, well, I believed them. I was standing on my feet – happy, clapping, hooting out my praise for the performers. These songbirds filled my head with tunes I won’t be able to stop singing for a good long time.
Thanks to our girl Abby for providing witty and insightful “liner note” introductions that helped us all become even more familiar with the Songbook, and to Ryan for his stellar accompaniment, which supplied the essential spirit necessary to showcase these hits. Thanks to the full house of listeners, who cheered for the singers and generously donated to rec room. And special thanks to all the talented Chicago songbirds who came to the back room of a bar on a Wednesday night, and gifted us all, with music.