Carole J. Bufford: Vintage Pop

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Carole J. Bufford

Vintage Pop

Birdland Theater, NYC, December 9, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Carole J. Bufford
Photo: Kevin Alvey

Carole J. Bufford sings not just with her fabulous voice; she also sings with her eyes and her hands and probably even her right knee if she wanted to and it was needed for the story she was telling.

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In her newest show, Vintage Pop, she traced the history of pop music, traveling through the 20th century (as she wryly pointed out, if she went into the current century, it wouldn’t be vintage). Those who have already come under her enchantment know the charm, the humor, and the warmth that she brings all times.
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This is not to ignore her intelligence; this show was smart, well researched, and informative as well as hugely entertaining.

Except for the first and the final numbers—Peggy Lee’s energetic “It’s a Good Day” and the sizzling “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” that gave her band a real chance to break loose and set the stage on fire—the songs were performed in chronological order from 1902 to 1988, which gave them a true arch in style and substance. All of the arrangements for the evening were by music director Ian Herman and Bufford with a few exceptions, such as “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” arranged by Larry Lees. All were evocative of the decade they represented. The other musicians who added to the electricity of the evening were bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Howie Gordon.

Some of the delightful choices were early standards—such as “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?”—and forgotten delights such as “Don’t Put a Tax on the Beautiful Girls” (Milton Ager/Jack Yellen, also arranged by Lees). Bufford has a special connection with slightly naughty lyrics that really seem to light up her eyes. She also soared with “St. Louis Blues,” which gave her something dramatic to dig into; she conveyed the pain in the song with her controlled body language. Her ability to demonstrate great stillness was on full display in “Bye, Bye Blackbird” in a breathtaking arrangement for voice and bass. “Blue Moon” gave her a chance to amuse the audience with some other lyrics that had been written for the tune. She did the same with the seasonal “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The other holiday song was “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” given a frisky rendition complete with additional lyrics by Bufford that had the two adults indulging in far more than just a kiss. She also offered a rocking version of “All Shook Up” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” with swinging hips and high energy. She shifted style again effortlessly for the ’70s and ’80s pop-chart winners such as “Queen Bee” (Rupert Holmes), “Every Breath You Take” (Sting), and “The Best” (Mike Chapman/Holly Knight). Throughout the evening, Bufford delivered delight after delight. It will be wonderful to see the journey she takes her audience on next.

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."