Steve Tyrell: Holidays at the Carlyle

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Steve Tyrell

Holidays at the Carlyle

Café Carlyle, NYC, November 27, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Steve Tyrell
Photo: David Andrako

Steve Tyrell’s 14th anniversary at the Café Carlyle warmed up the early winter chill with Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and then moved into an easy swinging look-back at his life and music. He has the stories to tell and the songs to sing, and Tyrell, with his extraordinary band, shares them all with natural swing, gritty vocals, and the finesse born of experience. 

Coming to New York for this engagement, his first stop was for breakfast where he ran into Steve Martin and, we all know, Tyrell’s breakthrough performance was his singing in the remakes of Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II, both starring Martin. The songs Tyrell sang in those films brought a new popularity to the Great American Songbook, including “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields) and “Give Me the Simple Life” (Rube Bloom/Harry Ruby), here showcasing the guitar magic of Bob Mann. Opening and closing the second Father series, Tyrell’s rendition of Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s “On the Sunny Side of the Street” led to a call from NASA requesting him to sing the song again as a wake-up recording for the astronauts.  

In a previous interview with me, Tyrell said, “Before Father of the Bride, I’d never sung a standard in my life.” Today, he is now best known as a performer, but until 1990, he spent 25 years as an active songwriter, arranger, and producer. He wrote the music for some TV series—for example, WKRP In Cincinnati. He co-wrote a song Elvis recorded, “It’s Only Love.” He worked in the studio with artists like Dionne Warwick, Linda Ronstadt, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He suggested that his Texas pal, B.J. Thomas, record Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” a 1970 Oscar winner. Tyrell also produced Rod Stewart’s CDs of standards.

Tyrell was raised in a Texas black neighborhood, the son of Italian immigrants. “In my family, it was God and Frank Sinatra,” joking that the superstar was Sinatra. “Frank’s music was kind of my parents’ music.” Tyrell, however, found his own standards in the 1960s music by performers like Van Morrison, Ray Charles, and the Shirelles.

A highlight in this show is a salute to Otis Redding’s 1966 transformation of the 1932 ballad, “Try a Little Tenderness” (Jimmy Campbell/Reg Connelly/Harry M. Woods), into a show-stopping soul anthem of discovery and gritty self-awareness. Hands reached across the tables when Tyrell delivered Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You,” his voice rugged and rural, if not quite striking the target of soul. His renditions are not impressions but tributes. Greeting jazz singer Marilyn Maye in the audience, he sang a blues-inflected “Sunday Kind of Love” (Barbara Belle/Anita Leonard/Stan Rhodes/Louis Prima). 

Sometimes you watch a performer like Tyrell and he’s having as much fun as his audience. He delivers his good-natured swing to “The Good Life” (Sacha Distel/Jean Broussolle/Jack Reardon) and some Sinatra classics—“Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard) and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Referring to his friend and mentor Burt Bacharach, he is releasing his Back to Bacharach CD with additional Bacharach/David songs. Bob Mann again showed his guitar magic with “The Look of Love,” and a Dionne Warwick hit closed the show—“I Say a Little Prayer.” As an encore, Tyrell hailed upcoming AIDS Day, December 1, with “That’s What Friends Are For.”

The creative arrangements are by musical director/pianist Quinn Johnson. With Johnson, this five-star band includes guitarist and arranger Bob Mann, David Mann on reeds, drummer Kevin Winard, and Jon Allen on keyboards and vocal backup.  

Steve Tyrell at the Café Carlyle—a New York tradition to bring in the holiday season. He continues at the Carlyle through December 31, 2018.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.