Sarah Partridge

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Sarah Partridge

Saint Peter’s Church, NYC, March 9, 2016 

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Sarah-Partridge-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Live performance and studio recording are distinct talents. One hopes that the two overlap, but it doesn’t always happen. Happily, Sarah Partridge is as compelling live as she is on her most recent release, I Never Thought I’d Be Here. (See review at As part of Ronny Whyte’s Midday Jazz at Saint Peter’s (the home of a popular Sunday Jazz Vespers), the actress-turned-jazz singer delighted an audience of music aficionados with a combination of standards and new material.

With Tomoko Ohno on piano, one didn’t miss the full band featured on the album. But it was the standards, with their long piano solos, that allowed the Japanese jazz pianist who performs with the Diva Orchestra (and the great Marlena Shaw) to show off her dazzling artistry.

While less inclined to perform Frank Sinatra’s “signature songs” than more obscure material in his oeuvre, Partridge put an original stamp on “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” (Bart Howard) with her signature breath control and flourishes of scat. A student of jazz history as well as a jazz performer, she provided interesting context for “Teach Me Tonight, (Gene De Paul/Sammy Cahn).

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A set of lyrics was written years after the original to reflect Sinatra’s, ahem, enthusiasm for those of the distaff persuasion. 

It’s tempting to read into the new album’s powerhouse title track, “I Never Thought I’d Be Here,” the performer’s transition from singer and song interpreter to writer. But I think part of what has impressed critics about her artistic leap—Sanford Josephson predicts that some of the selections on the release will become standards—is the universality of the songs. As with the most successful works of art in any genre, they are and are not about her.

“I Remember You” (Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer) gave Partridge a chance to explain what inspired her to write her first song. This paired nicely with a poignant love song (not something she often sings or writes), “I Won’t Let You Go” (James Morrison). To judge by the way the singer holds on to the notes, we have no doubt that she’s telling the truth.

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 Partridge traces her passion for jazz to her father, a fan not only of legends like Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, but those less well-known today, like George Shearing, whose music filled her childhood home. In her early album, Songs for My Father, the loving daughter imagines songs that he would have loved to hear her sing as well as those she wishes she could have shared with him. But unlike some musicians who credit a parent for their love of music, Partridge is genuinely talented; the parental origins of her musical tastes merely deepen the quality of her work. The image of five-year-old Sarah singing the sexually mature, if not raunchy, “Great Scot,” was equally endearing and amusing.

Perhaps because of she was an actress in a former life, Partridge is as comfortable speaking as she is singing. She combines musical seriousness with an easygoing manner, a balance not easily achieved in cabaret. The singer also projects a generosity of spirit, asking her classically-trained pianist if she wished to talk about her most recent album. In a display of fervent modesty, Ohno shook her head before standing up and uttering only three short statements: “My son goes to college this year. I go to Japan to take care of my sick mother. Please buy my album.” The contrast between Ohno’s ferocity on the ivories and her sweet shyness in speech evoked loud laughter in the audience.

Among the most heartfelt numbers was “Dancing in My Mind,” her first attempt at songwriting. “You were the one/Would take me by the hand/And I’d be dancing in my mind”: this captures what Partridge does with her voice, which gently carries us along with her on her musical wanderings. 

The closing numbers, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (Billy Austin/Louis Jordan) and “Every Day (I Have the Blues)” felt anti-climactic and would have been better placed earlier in the show. But, aside from this minor matter of sequence and the mic which briefly went on the fritz about two-thirds through the show, Partridge and Ohno delivered an exceptional hour of jazz in an unorthodox venue.