“Chris Gillespie Live at The Carlyle”
By Wilfrid Sheed
Towards the end of this exhilarating album, Chris Gillespie breaks into Bart Howard’s classic, “Fly Me to the Moon,” and one realizes with a shock that we’ve already been there. Because, in his first seven numbers, Gillespie has taken us on the whole love-trip, to the moon and back, as artfully as it can be done. In his first number, Lane and Freed’s “How About You”, a couple compare notes about their tastes in life, which as every lover knows can soon turn into love-talk. And by the second, Burke and Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful,” the singer is weighing the pros and cons of going all the way, and concluding like a billion before him that love at its worst is still better than anything else. And by golly, he’s going to make it work this time. So he plunges into the deep end with Irving Berlin’s greatest and truest love song, “How Deep Is The Ocean,” and proceeds to Schwartz and Deitz’s meditation on the exclusiveness of love. Every time the loved one enters, the room magically empties. Deeper than the sea and higher than the sky is hard to reach. And “Alone Together” is never all that far from alone. And it is in the next song that the first crack appears in the beautiful sky. No love cycle would be complete without Cole Porter, and his abiding fear that dreams fade and love cools, and even the brightest moon will suddenly grow dim “In the Still of the Night.” Enter the Gershwin brothers for a quick look at the bright side. Every love also leaves gorgeous places on one’s soul that can’t be erased or “taken away” by anyone. And as Bob Haggard and Johnny Burke remind us in the finale “What’s New,” the lover with the broken heart is the one who gets to write all the songs and relive the poetry.
From here on in, the concert seems more improvised. We’re old friends now and Gillespie is free to play, with an obscure Billie Holiday number here and an instrumental jam session there, to display his virtuosity and his sidemen, who are also the best: Vito Leszcak on drums; Keith Loftis, who played with Ray Charles and really knows how to make a star shine, on sax; and most significantly, Frank Tate, who played bass for ten years with the incomparable Bobby Short, to provide valuable continuity. Under Bobby, the Carlyle became the big leagues of cabaret. And under Gillespie it still is.
And finally, the audience is big-league too. The prototypical cabaret crowd is the one at Rick’s Place in Casablanca, a mishmash of different lives and languages, stepping out of time and space for a golden moment of shared humanity. And Chris Gillespie, who is Dutch and Tanzanian, but was born and classically trained in Munich, makes the perfect host. And he plays and sings in a contemplative style that makes the American standards sound like newfound treasure and a passport to paradise.
To adapt the title from the great Sinatra, I’d like to call the results “Songs for Swinging Grownups,” and incidentally the best evening of cabaret that I have ever spent entirely at home.