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

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Clint Holmes & Billy Stritch

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

Birdland Theater, NYC, January 15, 2020
Reviewed by Ron Forman

Clint Holmes & Billy Stritch

Clint Holmes is one of today’s truly great entertainers. The dynamic and kinetic Holmes is much more than a wonderful vocalist; it is virtually impossible to keep your eyes off him when he is on stage. He looks great and his facial expressions, movement on stage, and interesting hand movements make every number memorable. Add the multi-talented Billy Stritch’s vocal stylings and the dazzling Christian Tamburr’s work on piano and vibes, and you have the recipe for a wonderful show. The final piece of this beautiful mosaic is that this group of very special performers performed a jazzy tribute to Nat Cole.

The Cole tribute opened with Holmes and Stritch doing swinging duets of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Walking My Baby Back Home,” both featuring piano solos by Tamburr. The duo then elicited laughter performing a song that Cole wrote with Johnny Mercer, “Save the Bones for Henry Jones.” Stritch moved to the piano while Tamburr moved to the vibes as Holmes related the story of how Eden Ahbez managed to get his song “Nature Boy” to Cole, before delivering an ultra-dramatic, hauntingly beautiful performance of the song, which featured an applause-producing solo on vibes by Tamurr. Still at the piano, Stritch began singing “L-O-V-E,” then asked the audience to call out the letters of the word as he performed the song. Holmes displayed his ability as balladeer with his softly dramatic “Mona Lisa,” featuring a soft solo by Tamburr on piano. Stritch sat at the piano as he channeled the King Cole Trio’s “Meet Me at No Special Place.” Holmes turned “It’s all Right with Me” into an up-tempo number where he simulated playing an instrument with his fingers on the microphone. The lights dimmed with only a spotlight on Stritch at piano for his softly dramatic “Somewhere Along the Way.” Both Holmes and Stritch showed their skills at scatting with a really swinging “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” Holmes movingly told how Cole became part of the civil rights movement before his and Stritch’s voices blended beautifully for “Unforgettable.” The lively closing number, “When You’re Smiling,” gave Holmes the opportunity to simulate the sound of a musical instrument by whistling.

Ron Forman

Ron Forman has been a Mathematics Professor at Kingsborough Community College for 45 years. In that time, he has managed to branch out in many different areas. From 1977 to 1994 he was co-owner of Comics Unlimited, the third largest comic book distribution company in the USA. In 1999,after a lifetime of secretly wanting to do a radio program, he began his weekly Sweet Sounds program on WKRB 90.3 FM, dedicated to keeping the music of the Great American Songbook alive and accessible. This introduced him to the world of cabaret, which led to his position as a reviewer for Cabaret Scenes.