Back in the 1950s, television (like the nation) was defined in black & white – with the faces on air almost exclusively white – until a new variety show debuted in 1956. Now the most elegant man on television was Nat King Cole. With his buttery baritone and sophisticated manner, his appeal crossed age and race. This preteen was smitten immediately and I remain a Cole fan to this day.
Brian DeLorenzo’s smart cabaret show at Sculler’s Jazz Club offered an evening of songs made famous by the inimitable Cole. DeLorenzo put his own spin on the music, of course. His voice, he pointed out to us, is nothing like Cole’s. For one thing he’s a tenor but what you soon discover is that they have meticulous phrasing and polished musicianship in common.
Some strange chemistry seemed to be at work at Sculler’s. When DeLorenzo sang, say “Mona Lisa,” you admired his take on the song and at the same time you could hear Cole’s version in your memory…and neither detracted from the other, a cerebral duet of sorts.
DeLorenzo managed to fit delightful historical detail between the songs, like Cole’s competition with his idol, Earl “Fatha” Hines when the two pianists joined a “Battle of the Bands” and Cole won, playing Hines’ signature song!
The hip Bill Duffy Quartet meshed seamlessly with DeLorenzo’s relaxed style and the singer generously gave them opportunity to show their stuff. With his consummate delivery he (and Duffy’s playful piano) found the humor in Rogers and Hart’s “This Can’t Be Love” and then made a novelty song like “I Found a Million Dollar Baby” (in a five and ten cents store) sound profoundly romantic. His warm, velvety low notes in “When I Fall in Love” morphed into a sweet midsection, then floated off into the skies in the upper range. DeLorenzo knows how to put across a song!
The quartet knows their way around jazz. Ed Harlow blew a fine sax solo in Johnny Mercer’s “Day In, Day Out.” Percussionist Steve Rose added a brassy rat-a-tat-tat to “It’s Only a Paper Moon” but the piece de resistance was DeLorenzo’s sorrowful, heartbreaking “Answer Me (My Love)” in which Keala Kaumeheiwa on bass supplied one solo verse, sounding like a cello weeping its lament.
You can’t have a Cole evening without “Unforgettable” – and since the DeLorenzo family has long performed together, Brian and his sister Elaine made the crowd swoon with pleasure. And it was unforgettable.