By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
March 25, 2015
Glamour and sophistication are words that easily come to mind when this writer considers what all three performing arts events, attended over the weekend, had in common with one another. Friday it was acclaimed vocalist/pianist/composer Tony DeSare at the urbane Cabaret at the Columbia; Saturday it was “All That Jazz,” an elegant fundraiser benefiting Indiana’s premiere contemporary dance company Dance Kaleidoscope; and finally, closing out the end of the week with a flourish was world renowned vocalist/pianist Michael Feinstein who performed with legendary singer Marilyn Maye in concert Sunday at the Palladium in Carmel.
He’s often compared to Michael Bublé, Harry Connick, Jamie Cullum and other contemporary crooners, but Tony DeSare, through both his programming and showmanship, showed just how much he stands apart from those others when he performed in his show “Night Life” Friday, the first of a two night engagement at theCabaret at the Columbia Club.
This was DeSare’s second appearance at the Cabaret, where he previously performed in 2011. Prior to that he also appeared on three different occasions with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in both its Pops and Symphony on the Prairie series.
DeSare was joined by upright bassist Steve Doyle, one of New York’s most sought after musicians, and Ed Decker, who plays in the style of jazz guitarist Bucky Pizarelli, on seven string guitar. The combination of piano, upright bass and guitar mirrors that of the former Nat King Cole Trio, and is one that is rarely employed these days.
The diverse program for DeSare’s show, which, during his introduction, he described as a survey of 100 years of music, consisted of standards from the American Songbook, pop songs from various decades and several of his own songs, including a couple of television jingles he wrote—all of them given a contemporary jazz twist.
Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me” was DeSare’s opening number followed by “Just One of Those Things” by Cole Porter. And as he did throughout his show, DeSare then switched things up with a jazz treatment of “Kiss” by Prince.
A highlight of Act 1 included DeSare playing and singing his own arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” which he said was commissioned by Jack Everly, ISO principal pops conductor, for a 2009 concert devoted to Berlin. DeSare dedicated the song to Everly and ISO pops executive director Ty Johnson, both of whom were present in the audience. He went on to say that they were responsible for booking his first symphonic concert. DeSare has since performed in over 40 others all over the country.
DeSare, described by a New York Times critic as a “Sinatra Acolyte,” provided one of the most compelling moments in the show when, accompanied only by Decker on guitar, he sang the melancholic “Deep In A Dream” made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes. Like Sinatra, DeSare possesses a richly toned, deeply sensual baritone voice.
Act 2 of DeSare’s show can best be described as a potpourri. Singing in his signature swinging style and displaying virtuosity as a pianist and mastery of the stride piano technique, DeSare cleverly rendered Journey’s “Faithfully,” “Takin’ it to the Streets,” by Michael McDonald, and a rollicking version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire.” At one point, while walking through the crowd, the handsome DeSare sat down next to a female audience member and serenaded her with “Fire,” by Bruce Springsteen.
DeSare admitted that growing up listening to pop songs he always remembered titles but not lyrics. Revealing a subtle sense of humor, he demonstrated how he used to fake it by singing “Benny and The Jets” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John, with nonsense, garbled lyrics.
“Chemistry” was one of two original compositions that DeSare included in the show. This one, in the style of old fashioned standards, won him the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition. Reinforcing his versatility as a composer, DeSare gleefully shared two jingles he wrote for television commercials. One was for the Hamptons Jitney company in Long Island, N.Y., and the other was for Jordan Kitts, a piano company in Washington D.C.
Time will tell what DeSare is capable of achieving in his so-far successful career. Not waiting for record companies to provide him with exposure, DeSare encouraged the audience to subscribe to his YouTube channel on which songs with accompanying videos are posted every two weeks. Also promising are his prospects as a potential musical theater composer. DeSare provided a peek at “Swing Sisters,” a musical about an all-female big band for which he is writing music and lyrics. He performed a piece from it titled “I’d Rather Be Me,” which is to be sung by a character who is an 18-year old musician who has been asked to join the band. Having performed with some of this country’s most renowned symphony orchestras and in numerous prestigious venues, it appears that it is only a matter of time until DeSare will eventually become a household name. With increased marketing, that could come sooner than later.
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