Billy Stritch & Gabrielle Stravelli: Mel and Ella Swing!

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Billy Stritch & Gabrielle Stravelli

Mel and Ella Swing!

Birdland, NYC, June 5, 2023

Reviewed by Chris Struck

Billy Stritch & Gabrielle Stravelli

Some performers simply own the stage. They know what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, and they command the attention of the audience from the moment their lips approach the mic until the audience calls for a second encore: “One more, one more, one more.” Billy Stritch and Gabrielle Stravelli are two such performers, and had they performed a second extra song, they might have been asked for yet another. If someone were to ask for one example of what the essence of cabaret can be and most often is, this was it. The two talented performers selected an array of meaningful music that was performed by Mel Tormé and Ella Fitzgerald )who rarely performed together) to create a song series that highlighted the flash of romance, the dashes of passions, and the hot fire of love’s flame that lights everyone’s lives with a bit of flare.

The cabaret mostly featured stories told about Tormé by Stritch and about Fitzgerald by Stravelli; it culminaed in a medley that combined songs that we assume were those performed by Tormé and Fitzgerald in at least two recorded moments. However, underlying much of the show was the ebb and flow of the passion of love in life. Stritch opened with “Just One of Those Things” and the lyric “Our love affair was too hot, not to cool down” set the tone. When Stravelli introduced herself and described the “safest distance between a woman and man in love” as something that a scientist would be unable to find in “Too Close for Comfort,” I was all ears. The singers occasionally shared the limelight in duets that followed this underlying theme of love burning and cooling, starting with “Just in Time.” They introduced it as the song on which they met; their stage chemistry was obvious, and they easily matched each other’s pitch and tempo as they traded verses. Whether well practiced or supernaturally connected, they offered beautiful duet combinations of Gerry Mulligan’s “Walking Shoes” and the Gershwons’ “Live Is Here to Stay,” along with a song worthy of another listen or two, “So Rare,” by Jerry Herst and Jack Sharpe.

For the aficionados of songbooks, this would have been your show, too. In reaction to songs by Johnny Mercer, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, among others, there were plenty of “ah yes, that pleasant hit” moments as the songs kept coming and the audience clapped for more. My personal favorite performances came near the end of the show. The first was “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” sung by Stritch, who channeled many New Yorkers when he sang the line in a rapturous tone, “all I want to do is find a plot of land and live there with you.” The second was “The Man I Love” sung by Stravelli, who observed before she sang it that Ira Gerswhin once said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella sing them.” Stravelli would have made him proud as her lovely voice rang out “I’ll do my best to make him stay, the man I love.”

This was a wonderful show by two talented performers, supported by the talented drummer Mark McLean and bassist Patrick O’Leary. If you have the opportunity to catch either of these two performers at some point, please do. Watching Stritch at the piano playing songs he loves is one of the joys of attending a night of jazz cabaret in Manhattan.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see