William Bolcom & Joan Morris
Metropolitan Room, NYC, December 26, 2016
Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes
The extraordinarily talented and charming performers making up the double act of pianist William Bolcom and singer Joan Morris have not only been purveying and perfecting their craft for over 40 years, but have proved that, like fine port wine, some things get better with age. Bolcom is a musical polymath, but as an accompanist for Morris is acutely attuned to his spouse’s voice and delivery. Their combination of talent has garnered them a dedicated following over the years, so it was no surprise that the opener, “Beginner’s Luck” (George and Ira Gershwin) was a portent of swell things to come. With raconteur Bolcom supplying short snippets of engaging narrative, Morris handles the vocals with expert musicality and a sweet charisma. In her salad days she possessed a clear, sparkling soprano. Lately, she’s dropped her register and changed keys. Two songs from their 1973 debut album, After the Ball—“On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” (Paul Dresser) and “I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard” (H.W. Petrie)—were reconceived with careful phrasing, expert vocal control and expressive interpretation, qualities evident also in her vibrant rendition of “I Happen to Like New York” (Cole Porter). With a nod to aging, septuagenarian Morris sang a tender “Ah, The Apple Trees” (“When the World Was Young”) (music by Philippe-Gerard, English words by Johnny Mercer). “The songs tell me when it’s time,” she noted.
One of the many attractions of Bolcom & Morris is in the variety of their material, from standards to musical hall and vaudeville to little known gems. Irving Berlin’s “Lazy” and “Humphrey Bogart” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller) especially showcased Morris’ comedic ability. With a nod to James Reese Europe and his influence on music, Morris sang Europe’s 1914 rag, “What It Takes to Make Me Love You” as well as “Weary” (Eubie Blake/Andy Razaf), with Bolcolm’s playing especially impactful. Political statements were delivered with “Just a Map” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick) and “Cambalache” (“Junk Shop”), written in 1935 by Argentine tango composer Enrique Santos Discepolo. “Waitin’” (William Bolcom/Arnold Weinstein) was sung emotively as an ode to a beloved husband. A bouncy, up-tempo “Jeepers Creepers” (Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer) would have ended the show until an emphatic audience clambered for an encore, which was “Non, je ne regrette rien” (Charles Dumont/Michel Vaucaire), sung with authority in Midwestern-tinged French—a superb and apropos finish to a delightful evening.