Clint Holmes & Billy Stritch: Straighten Up and Fly Right—The Music of Nat “King” Cole

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Clint Holmes and Billy Stritch

Straighten Up and Fly Right—The Music of Nat “King” Cole

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, July 18, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes

Clint Holmes & Billy Stritch
Photo: Stephen Sorokoff

What better way to celebrate the 100th birthday of the phenomenal talent of Nat “King” Cole then this collaboration of two of America’s finest song stylists, Clint Holmes and Billy Stritch. Opening with a duet on the 1943 hit “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (Nat “King” Cole), Stritch and Holmes exchanged verses and seamlessly blended their tenors on the choruses. They joined again on the humorous Daniel Barker, Henry McCoy Jones, and Michael H. Goldsen novelty song “Save the Bones for Henry Jones.

Holmes, a two-time 2018 Grammy nominee, took the first two solos with a sensational rendition of Cole’s 1948 recording of Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” highlighted by the vibraphone wizardry of musical direct Christian Tamburr. He took on Cole’s most famous signature song, “Mona Lisa,” an Oscar winner for Best Song for the 1950 film Captain Carey, USA. Holmes adds an R&B feel in his jazz offerings, that brings genuine authenticity to the lyrics. The rhythm section of locals John Wiitala on bass and Greg Wyserpratt on percussion equaled the piano stylings of either Stritch or Tamburr, who wrote all the arrangements.

Stritch, who rose to prominence through his longtime collaborations with Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett, showed why he’s the heir apparent to Bobby Short with beautiful vocals on the bluesy “Meet Me in No Special Place” (J. Russell Robinson/Harry Pyle/Arthur Terker) and the touching Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Gallop hit “Somewhere Along the Way.” Stritch loves a great lyric and like his mentor, Mel Tormé, he draws the feelings from ballads with ease and sophistication.

The two combined vocals and high energy on “L-O-V-E,” “Orange Colored Sky,” and “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.

” Tamburr is an acclaimed pianist, music director, and vibraphonist. Downbeat Magazine recognized him with the “Outstanding Solo Jazz Performance” award, and he’s a five-time “Critics Choice Top Rising Star” award recipient on the vibraphone. He is currently music director, pianist, and arranger for Clint Holmes, and the synergy between the two and Stritch is dynamic and exhilarating.

The show closed with “Unforgettable,” “When You’re Smiling,” and Nat’s favorite song, “Smile.” Stritch, Holmes, and Tamburr are stars in their own genres, and joining in the songs of the great Nat “King” Cole they make a formidable quartet.

Steve Murray

Always interested in the arts, Steve was encouraged to begin producing and, in 1998, staged four, one-man vehicles starring San Francisco's most gifted performers. In 1999, he began the Viva Variety series, a live stage show with a threefold mission to highlight, support, and encourage gay and gay-friendly art in all the performance forms, to entertain and document the shows, and to contribute to the community by donating proceeds to local non-profits. The shows utilized the old variety show style popularized by his childhood idol Ed Sullivan. He’s produced over 150 successful shows, including parodies of Bette Davis’s gothic melodramedy Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s very awful Trog. He joined Cabaret Scenes 2007 and enjoys the writing and relationships he’s built with very talented performers.