The Joint Is Jumpin’!: ASA’s 2018 Gala

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American Songbook Association 2018 Gala

The Joint Is Jumpin’
Celebrating America’s Black Songwriters and Singers

The Irene Diamond Theater
at the Pershing Square Signature Center

September 17, 2018

Reported by Bart Greenberg

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy

What a night! Congratulations to the Board of the ASA on a successful event. Here are photos from the first annual American Songbook Association Gala.

The American Songbook Association (“ASA”) presented its first annual gala on Monday, September 17, on The Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center. An all-star cast celebrated America’s black songwriters and singers. The occasion also served to present the ASA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award to the legendary Marilyn Maye. The songwriters featured included Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Charlie Smalls, Sam Coslow, and Fats Waller, while performers referenced included The Ink Spots, Cab Calloway, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. The evening was kept moving at a spirited pace with those speaking keeping it brief and most of the performers keeping to a single song or medley, with a few exceptions. A tremendous amount of entertainment was packed into a show that lasted less than two hours.

Marilyn Maye
Bob Mackie presents Marilyn Maye with the first annual
ASA Lifetime Achievement Award

Launching the program with an overture of piano pieces by Scott Joplin, James P. Johnson and Billy Strayhorn, Jon Weber offered up his usual dazzling keyboard work. Crooner Todd Murray, serving as host of the evening, then kicked off things with a bouncing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” both with the original lyrics and with a clever parody verse paying tribute to honoree Maye. Marilyn Lester, the Executive Director of the ASA, then offered brief welcoming remarks.

Jon Weber
Host Todd Murray
ASA Executive Director Marilyn Lester
Stacy Sullivan

The elegant Stacy Sullivan, with Weber at the piano, offered a medley of three Ellington songs, cleverly blended together: “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” and “Jump for Joy.” Following her was the electrifying N’Kenge, clad in yellow ruffles that showed off her long legs, and a red feather boa, who delivered a slithery, vampish “Dat’s Love (Habanera).”


Stepping out of the on-stage band, which included music director Eugene Gwozdz and drummer Mark McLean, saxophonist and vocalist Danny Bacher drew the audience into an audience participation version of “Minnie the Moocher” in a call and response fashion on the scat choruses. A shift of mood, but staying with some suggestive lyrics, Tony Award winner Cady Huffman delivered a sultry “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bow,” written by Nina Simone.

Danny Bacher
Eugene Gwozdz, Musical Director
Cady Huffman
Joel A. Martin

Veteran pianist Joel A. Martin, insisting it was his “first time at the piano,” dazzled with another medley of classic standards including “Honeysuckle Rose,” “’Round Midnight,” and “Take the A Train.” Clad in a flowing blue outfit, Vivian Reed stopped the show with a soulful rendition of “Believe in Yourself” from The Wiz.

Vivian Reed

n a dashing patterned tuxedo, Aaron Lee Battle offered up the tongue twisting “Frim Fram Sauce,” which was followed by the more casually, but nattily dressed Nicolas King, who swung out (“If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini).”

Aaron Lee Battle
Nicolas King

In more bright yellow ruffles, statuesque Kissy Simmons delivered a heartfelt “God Bless the Child.” Then Broadway veteran Ken Page claimed the stage with two numbers: “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Piano Man.” Finally, the majestic Natalie Douglas offered a beautifully hushed rendition of “Mr. Bojangles.”

Kissy Simmons
Ken Page
Natalie Douglas

Fashion maven and costumer to the stars Bob Mackie came on stage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to the effervescent  Maye, who, accompanied by Tedd Firth sang her acceptance speech to the melody of “I Can’t Buy You Anything but Love,” and followed that with several more numbers, including “Satin Doll,” a Ray Charles medley, a riotous “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” and her trademark “Here’s to Life.”

The entire company ended the evening with a group reprise of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) and the band played the audience out with “The Joint Is Jumpin’.” In the capacious lobby, the all-star audience got to mingle with the performers of the night.

The Finale!
Mark McLean, Drummer
Phil Palombi, Bass
(L-R) Todd Murray, Natalie Douglas, Aaron Lee Battle, Marilyn Maye,
Stacy Sullivan, Nicolas King, Joel A. Martin, Marilyn Lester
(L-R) Frank Dain, Joel A. Martin, Aaron Lee Battle, Ken Page,
Natalie Douglas, K’Kenge, Kissy Simmons,
Vivian Reed, Nicolas King, Eugene Gwozdz, Danny Bacher
Bill Sharpe & Carolyn Montgomery