[Dixielandjazz] FW: Dorothy Fields tribute reviewed

Bill Haesler bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Tue Mar 22 13:04:12 PST 2005

Dear friends,
These two reviews from another list.
Appropriate, considering some of our recent threads.
Kind regards,

A Roar from Old Broadway That Is Distinctively Female
by Stephen Holden
New York Times, March 21, 2005

Toward the end of "Dorothy's Side of the Street," the 92nd Street
Y's centennial tribute to the lyricist Dorothy Fields, the singer and
dancer Karen Ziemba burst out of her chrysalis and administered a
shot of adrenaline to the staid evening. Preening luxuriously and
stretching her long legs, a mischievous smile playing across her
face, she belted "Big Spender," the brassy, streetwise come-on that
Fields wrote with Cy Coleman for the 1966 show "Sweet Charity."

As the evening's host and narrator, Deborah Grace Winer, who wrote a
biography of Fields, "On the Sunny Side of the Street," pointed out,
Fields was still going strong at 60, having outlasted most of her
eminent songwriting peers as a producer of vital, first-rate lyrics.
Ms. Ziemba, joined by Billy Stritch, went on to cap the program with
a zinging rendition of the score's other famous proclamation, "If My
Friends Could See Me Now."

The qualities that distinguished Fields's lyrics for "Sweet Charity"
were the same ones that characterized her first hits, written with
Jimmy McHugh nearly 40 years earlier. Fields wrote as if she were
addressing the listener in smart, down-to-earth language. Even when
she used playful internal rhymes, her application of craft rarely
called attention to the ingenuity behind it.

"Dorothy's Side of the Street" also featured the cabaret legend
Julie Wilson and a pop-jazz quintet led by the pianist John Oddo. Although
Ms. Wilson, now over 80, no longer sings, she delivered "Remind Me"
and "I Must Have That Man" as fiery, insinuating, spoken monologues.
Mr. Stritch, accompanying himself on piano, applied his well-oiled
Steve Lawrence-meets-Mel Tormé technique to "Baby Dream Your Dream,"
another artfully tarnished nugget from "Sweet Charity."

That perennially asked question of whether Fields's lyrics expressed
a woman's point of view was asked, and answered in the affirmative,
with "Remind Me" and "I Won't Dance" served up as examples. What
man, slow-dancing with an attractive partner, would think to warn himself
or her: "Heaven rest us! I'm not asbestos!"

Rhythm's Time
by Will Friedwald
New York Sun, March 21, 2005

Dorothy Fields was one of the great wordsmiths of the jazz age, and
before Harold Arlen, she was the white, Jewish songwriter most
associated with black showbiz (including the "Black Birds" shows on
Broadway and the Cotton Club revues in Harlem). The 92nd Street Y's
Centennial Salute to Dorothy Fields was an example of the songbook
concert format at its best.

Most such recitals of a songwriter's work are centered around
cabaret singers, and that's both their strength and their weakness. This is
fine if you're doing Stephen Sondheim or Jacques Brel, but many of
the great composers of the 1930s and 1940s wrote pop music that was
equal parts jazz, and thus demands vocalists who can at least sing
in time. Thankfully, Fields's biographer, Deborah Grace Winer, who
produced and hosted the concert, found three star singers who are
not rhythmically challenged.

The principle performers were Karen Ziemba, Julie Wilson, and
pianist-singer Billy Stritch. The backing trio featured superb, contemporary
arrangements by John Oddo, working with the same rhythm combination
used by Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, and Barbara Carroll,
namely bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe Cocuzzo.

Ms. Ziemba, the Broadway star who distinguished herself in "Never
Gonna Dance," the 2003 musical that featured many Fields songs, was
outstanding in last season's production of "Bye Bye Birdie" at
Encores! And she is primarily a dancer, and thus more familiar than
most musical theater artists with the concept of time.

Saturday night she had the responsibility here of doing both the big
dramatic highlight and the big comedy highlight of "A Tree Grows in
Brooklyn" -- namely, "Make the Man Love Me" and "Refinement." Yet
she is an even better dancer, and earned her biggest reaction strutting
and wiggling with a Fosse-esque gait on "Hey Big Spender." I felt
somewhat cheated that the format didn't allow her do a full dance

Ms. Wilson is a star diva often linked to the great East Side
tradition of Mabel Mercer, but she, too, is at home in a jazz
setting. Ms. Wilson, who recently turned 80, remains the queen of
all cabaret divas, and still has style and class to spare. She was as
impressive as ever in a mini-set of three early hits by Fields and
Jimmy McHugh, including the triple-rhyming torch song, "I Must Have
That Man."

After Ms. Wilson sang the line "Blame your kiss," in "Don't Blame
Me," tenor saxophonist Mark Vinci responded with a lusty obligato
and she ad-libbed "Oh, what a kiss!" Ms. Wilson never had much of a
range, and even when she mostly talks the words to "Remind Me," she
still seems supremely musical. Mr. Oddo, mindful that Fields and
Jerome Kern wrote it for a picture called "A Night in the Tropics"
(Abbott and Costello's Hollywood debut), gave the 1940 song an
undulating tropical lilt. When she started the verse with the
line, "Turn off that charm," everyone in the house was
thinking, "not likely."

Finally, Billy Stritch is part of the cabaret world, too, but such
an outstanding keyboardist that he is a better jazz pianist than many
full-time jazz pianists. He was assigned the deceptively simple
lyric and melody of "I'm in the Mood for Love." The main part of each A
section is essentially a descending diatonic scale, and he also
embellished this line with a Latinish rhythm.

Mr. Stritch was on-target in his solos, rolling his eyes on the
phrase "Virgin isle" in "Diga Diga Do" (a song rarely held up as an
example of great lyric writing) and gazing upwards on "if there are
clouds above" in "Mood for Love." He didn't have much chemistry with
either Ms. Ziemba or Ms. Wilson in his duets with them, but he did
a vocal duet with bass player Jay Leonhart on "Pick Yourself Up,"
inspired by an arrangement that Mr. Leonhart played zillions of
times with the late Mel Tormé.

When I left the Mack Gordon Lyrics and Lyricists tribute in
February, I lamented that it didn't have any vocalists who could swing. This
time they all could. I was disappointed, however, that there wasn't
one great lyric balladeer, like Sylvia McNair or Rebecca Luker, who
could sing the hell out of Fields's great love songs. You just can't
please some people.
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