“Remembering Mabel and Bobby”: The Mabel Mercer And Bobby Short Tribute Concert
I don’t often go to shows, but every once in a while a really great show comes along that is just too good to miss. I my case, it happened last week, and I missed it, not because I couldn’t go but because I didn’t even know it was taking place. As Stephen Holden wrote recently in the New York Times:
“For every musical genre there is usually an event that more people claim to have attended than could possibly have been there. In rock, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969 leads a long list of touchstones. Many would cite Benny Goodman’s Jan. 16, 1938, Carnegie Hall concert as Woodstock’s swing equivalent. For cabaret, a prime date is May 19, 1968, when Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short, who are now regarded as the field’s patron saints, shared the stage at Town Hall in a concert recorded by Atlantic Records.”
I have this 1968 record and let me tell you it is a gem. Mabel was some twenty years older than Bobby and he was quite literally her young portage. She had a wonderful talent of singing and playing the piano with just the right harmony below her voice. A rare talent, and you can hear how Bobby learned from her if you compare their styles.
I met Bobby Short in the mid-1990s just like anyone else who might have attended his shows at The Café Carlyle. We spoke briefly after one of his shows, in the back of the Café by the bar. I told him that I was the friend of Barnaby Conrad’s son, and he perked up and said, “oh, the bull fighter!” We always used to start our conversations this way because frankly there wasn’t much sense in assuming he’d remember me between visits. He was gracious and elegant and the ultimate “saloon singer” as he liked to call himself.
I never met Mabel Mercer. She died in the early 1980s long before I started making trips to New York. How I would have enjoyed seeing her sing and perform. Wow.
So recently, after 45 years, some folks from the Mabel Mercer Foundation put together a tribute concert to Mabel and Bobby at Town Hall, the same legendary location where they met in 1968 for their infamous concert. And I missed it. No, Mabel and Bobby would not be there, but on stage there were some very impressive talent who picked up the torch these two left behind.
Last year I recorded “Café Nights In New York” and there’s no doubt that it was influenced by Bobby Short who in turn was influenced by Mabel Mercer. In my case I created “original standards” as I like to call them — songs that could have been written by Cole Porter in the 1920s but played in the style of the 1950s. It was a very quick project and the result is something I’m very pleased with.
Next Tuesday, I’ll be performing selections from “Café Nights” along with popular American Songbook standards at Don’t Tell Mama — and I’ll be backed by Café Carlyle veterans, including Bobby’s drummer for 15 years, Klaus Suonsaari who Bobby introduced me to in the late 1990s.
I missed a great tribute to Bobby and Mabel some 45 years after their seminal recording at Town Hall in 1968. But I’m looking forward to carrying their spirit even if but for one night in New York next week — I hope to see you there.
Jack Phillips and his trio will be appearing at Don’t Tell Mama’s on Tuesday, May 28th at 8pm. Tickets are $15 (cash only) with a two drink minimum. For reservations, please call (212) 757-0788 or online at http://www.donttellmamanyc.com/shows?task=view_event&event_id=273