Cy Coleman: A Jazzman’s Broadway

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Cy Coleman: A Jazzman’s Broadway

(Harbinger Records)

April 4, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Most of us know composer Cy Coleman from Broadway’s Sweet Charity, Barnum, City of Angels…. In fact, when quite young, the artist rebelled from classical training to become an in-demand jazz performer, rising to some very swank rooms.

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Piano stylings have survived on records and transcription discs created from live broadcasts. Coleman began to write pop songs and finally to collaborate on musicals, but this may be where his heart lay. He loved jazz, had a fine voice and was, by all reports, a joyful performer.

This CD features group instrumentals, piano solos, and some vocals. Selections come from three Broadway shows: 1957’s Jamaica (music: Harold Arlen; lyrics: Yip Harburg); 1958’s Flower Drum Song and 1949’s South Pacific 1949 (both with music: Richard Rodgers; lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II).

There are many pleasures to be garnered here. Songs from Jamaica, with vocals by Coleman, are rarely performed—how many of you know “Napoleon” and the lightly served “Little Biscuit”? Coleman’s jazz hand mixed with calypso infection increases the wry spirit and infectious rhythm of these numbers. Harmonized back-up vocals add an old fashioned, but not unwelcome dimension. Remember television variety shows? Some instrumentals sashay while others make no pretense at being other than jazz interpretations. Intermittent flute evokes butterflies, then smoky nightclubs. Nimble-fingered Coleman proves mercurial.

Flower Drum Song includes, in part, “You Are Beautiful,” bookended by delicacy, morphing into —then retreating from — a jazz treatment with cottony bass. “Chop Suey” and “Grant Avenue” ride the hills of San Francisco with barely a nod to the original melody. This is less my cuppa. The beginning of “A Hundred Million Miracles” is rather like—I don’t think I ever heard this before—“Hello, Young Lovers” from The King and I, then grows jaunty. “Love, Look Away” is a new take on poignant.

Selections from South Pacific are deeply emotional. “Younger Than Springtime” arrives balletic, enchanting. Sun twinkles on water. The lush tune is immensely graceful. “This Nearly Was Mine” emerges in sighs—melancholy, wistful, grateful. “Happy Talk” is playful, mischievous.

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It dances and darts, slides down a hill, climbs a tree. Coleman injects a Hollywood Chinese theme. (He often plays a little something familiar from outside a song. It’s like winking.) “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” is kittenish, flirty. This section most clearly harks back to the musician’s classical background.

The CD is a unique addition to any collection.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.