Carole J. Bufford: Valentine’s Day

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Carole J. Bufford

Valentine’s Day

Birdland, NYC, February 14, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Carole J. Bufford

Looking like a glittering valentine in red bugle beads, Carole J. Bufford offered up a holiday celebration of love—its joys and sorrows—at Birdland’s jazz club. The singer is an unusual mix of jazz vocalist and cabaret interpreter, delighting in musical riffs and lyrical depths. In a tribute to Dusty Springfield, “The Look of Love” becomes a soulful exploration, while “Sway” was given an unusual and erotic interpretation via a duet for voice and drums (Joe Peri’s drum work proved hypnotic).

Bufford seemed delighted in sharing trivia she had discovered about her songs, as well as the background of her approach to many of them, from the original dummy lyrics for “I Got Rhythm” to the rarely used subtitle to the classic “A Fine Romance”—(“A Sarcastic Love Song”)—to the complicated background to “Killing Me Softly.” Beyond the standards, there were surprises such as a torchy, honky-tonk version of a Beatles song, “Oh! Darlin’,” and a salute to Dorothy Shay, the Park Avenue Hillbilly with her homicidal specialty “Say That We’re Sweethearts” (Earl Brent).

Although the evening was devoted to a romantic holiday, other emotions weren’t ignored. Prowling the stage while delivering a dangerous “Rock Me Baby” (B.B. King & Joe Josea), the diva offered a mix of Tina Turner growl and Eartha Kitt purr. “Cry Me a River” evoked pure fury. All of this was topped by Bufford’s encore, “The Man I Love,” which she transformed into a master class in phrasing, finding the song’s desperation, its hope, and even its bitter humor—“maybe one day, maybe not”—all delivered with a rueful smile and a shrug of the shoulders and with complete control of the melody.

Throughout, she was supported by the classy Steven Feifke Trio (in addition to Peri on drums and Feifke on piano, Mark Lewandowski was on bass), who also spelled the singer with a voluptuous instrumental performance of “My Foolish Heart.” With their assistance, Bufford captured the heart of the audience with this Valentine’s Day present.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."