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Cabaret Roundup: Best of 2011... A Baker's Dozen
By: John Hoglund
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A baker's dozen …

Cabaret is a milieu that is unique. And, Manhattan nightlife is like no other in the world. 2011 was another banner year for eclectic talent in the clubs of Gotham.

With cabaret having more definitions than the Republican candidates, choosing an artist or act to make the grade is no easy task. As with most year-end listings, it's subjective.
One person's Harry Connick is another person's Hugh Jackman. Sure.

And, not everyone can be at all shows. With that in mind, this observer came up with a baker's dozen (which is so cabaret.) That is, a dozen artists and one from the piano room arena (which remains a serious jumping off point for many getting started (just ask Streisand.)

You don't have to agree. But it's natty to add another sharp voice to all the lists and eventual award shows (that sometimes reward mediocrity.) It's rewarding to give a nudge and maybe peak some interest in artists who deserve to be cited for their work in this delicate schizo cradle called cabaret. In alphabetical order:

Yanna Avis
Feinstein's/Metropolitan Room/Café Sabarsky

In a breakthrough year, this stunning international chanteuse who drips of royalty when she enters a room, offered sophisticated and imaginative cabaret spiced with her trademark seductive song stylings and an insidious smoky delivery. A prolific multi-lingual entertainer, in 2011, everyday New Yorkers mixed with the jet set that flock to see this riveting illusion . Think Dietrich. Think Ute Lemper. Think greatness. The lady is a vamp who burns a torch. And, that torch sizzles.

Chris Botti
The Blue Note

Chris Botti's annual three-week holiday residency at The Blue Note has turned into a must-see Manhattan tradition. With a history that includes recording with Frank Sinatra, Sting, Josh Groban, Joni Mitchell, Michael Buble', John Mayer. Joshuah Bell, Paul Simon and Andrea Bocelli, this supple, haunting horn player sells out huge venues around the world and collects Grammy's in the bargain. And, he doesn't forget his club roots as he returns to pack them into this hot west village mainstay jazz club.

Barbara Carroll
Sunday Brunch at the Oak Room at The Algonquin

Some artists cannot be ignored. Too, there are few living jazz artists who can touch the greatness of Barbara Carroll. She weaves many moods from that piano bench. And, she does it all so subtly and without fanfare that it's easy to forget how brilliant she is in her haunting, no-frills delivery on the likes of Billy Strayhorn's “Lotus Blossom” and a myriad of other musical fantasies. Her current weekend brunch gig at The Algonquin is master class in how to get it right. As Tony Bennett has often said, “... there's no one like her.” The octogenarian still emotes her signature crystalline diction and definitive placement of the melodic line in whatever she offers. And what she offers is magic.

Baby Jane Dexter
Still Bad, Still Blue

Metropolitan Room

Baby Jane Dexter just gets better. At a point where it seems that she can't top herself, she revisits a few tunes from a show done fifteen years ago, mixes newer, cool pop tunes (including a beauty by Pink!) and offers a set that has the whole town buzzing . In 2011, she offered her best show. with more coming from this pop/blues mama who continues to “hold on.”

Terese Genecco & Her Little Big Band
Iridium Jazz Club

Photo: Stephen Sorokoff

Terese Genecco's monthly love-in at Iridium recalls another era when big bands were fronted by girl singers who went on to become stars (like Rosemary Clooney, Anita O'Day and Doris Day, etc.) At a time when there's not much left out there to revisit an age we will never see again, along comes Genecco from San Francisco. She's a temerarious dynamo with a flair for brassy delivery on making the standards swing. Sometimes at the piano or at the drum kit, this girl singer works the room and shakes up Times Square as the longest running cabaret show on Broadway.

Nicole Henry
Metropolitan Room

Just two years ago, her jazz CD landed at No. 7 between Diana Kral and Tony Bennett on the Billboard jazz charts. Her many SRO appearances at Metropolitan Room rewarded her with a strong following. But, cabaret awards and their like have alluded her at awards time. She has all the right stuff to bring her to the top of the business. Writers have compared her to the top names in the industry with good reason. As one of the most refined vocalists to emerge in years from clubs, Henry is on her way. Her brand of soulful jazz and captivating voice make her a natural winner.

The Man In the Long Black Coat; The songs of Bob Dylan

Metropolitan Room

In her latest masterful show, Barb Jungr made the sold out room feel as if they were hearing Dylan for the first time. Her performances have become iconic here and across the pond where she hails from. Few artists could cast such a spell over an audience as Ms. Jungr does. Channeling the free spirit of Dylan in words and music, this show was such a success and high caliber, it is returning in April for a theatrical run.

Nicolas King
Don't Tell Mama/Iridium Jazz Club

This new cabaret kid on the block is already a star. From appearing in the original cast of “Beauty and the Beast”on Broadway to opening for Liza Minnelli when he was sixteen, today, having just turned the ripe old age of twenty, King is one of today's strongest contenders. Working with brilliant musical director Mike Renzi, King tears the roof off the place with style that recalls a young Mel Torme'.

Tom Postilio
This Time Around
Feinstein's At Loews Regency

After a hiatus, Tom Postilio's return to cabaret was a cause to celebrate. Mixing Peter Allen with Sinatra and his buoyant charisma, audiences welcomed his brand of sophisticated fun as he drew in big name celebs to visit the star of the hit HGTV reality show, “Selling New York.” His absence from local cabaret only strengthened his ease with an audience (he also has his own swing orchestra.) Whether ripping into the vulgarly sophisticated “Satisfy Me With Your Love” or creating a pin-dropper mood with “Being Green,” Postilio's supple baritone and solid brand of big room entertainment makes him a winner anytime.

Marcus Simeone
Metropolitan Room

Celebrating the release of his latest CD and a decade in cabaret, singer/songwriter Marcus Simeone has evolved into one of the most fearless and unpredictable male vocalists in cabaret. He has taken more musical chances than anyone covering every single vocal style from R & B/gospel and jazz to pop and even Sinatra. Along the way, he has been rewarded by his peers and gushing audiences who can't get enough of his expressive, multi-octave tenor. In 2011, with his best show, he made his mark in spades with everyone singing his praises.

Southern Comfort
Tom Andersen, Scott Coulter, Tim DiPasqua
Metropolitan Room

From “Stand By Your Man” and “Crazy” to a plethora of country gems, this hootenanny showcases three of cabaret's most honored artists; Tom Andersen, Scott Coulter and Tim DiPasqua. Backed by a hot band (with a fiddle) and brimming with laid back humor, this crowd-pleasing show has lots of commercial appeal. It's uplifting and full of fun. And, those songs! From Patsy Cline hits to gems from Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, George Jones and a bevy of others, it's worthy of wider recognition and attention. A director might shape it better. But, when iit comes to solid entertainment and the talent level is this high, there are no quibbles. The singing and musicianship along plus the raucous banter makes it all a hoe-down worthy of this or any list - and even more worthy of bigger venues.

Aaron Weinstein
Have Strings, Will Travel
Metropolitan Room

Still new on the club scene, this virtuoso jazz violinist has already been compared to the likes of Jack Benny and Woody Allen (New York Times.) Others have mentioned the late, legendary Stephane Grappelli. Whoever. The guy has a sly sense of humor that he uses sparingly amid his brilliance on songs from a variety of American songwriters. His star is rising fast and he's getting bookings all over the country. With musical genius co-hort Ted Firth at the piano and bassist Tom Hubbard completing the trio, Mr. Weinstein is off to one great start and it's only in the early stages of a major career for the Joshua Bell of cabaret.

Best Manhattan Room Entertainer
Jerry Scott

Could it be magic? No matter where he winds up, this multi-faceted,multi-award winning piano man can whip a room into a fast frenzy or calm the crowds with his unique brand of performing to his loyal followers. He is a true night life fixture in Manhattan (and has toured the globe as well.) Whether belting out “You've got A Friend,” “Rhythm Of Life” or a dizzying array of cascading glissandos as he turns “Nessun Dorma” into the most rhapsodic concerto on the planet, Jerry Scott remains New York's most beloved and popular entertainer.

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