Natalie Douglas: Back to the Garden

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Natalie Douglas

Back to the Garden

Birdland, NYC, February 26, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Natalie Douglas
Photo: Jeremy Ryan

Natalie Douglas has certainly established herself as a diva of the first order in the world of cabaret and jazz. When she took the stage at Birdland to celebrate the release of her newest recording Back to the Garden, she did not disappoint her adoring audience. Bringing her trademark warmth and good humor; her sweet innocence; and her glorious, flexible voice and style, she covered a wide variety of musical styles. She even included a few surprises along the way.

Kicking off the evening by transforming into the epitome of a big band singer, Douglas offered “Begin the Beguine” in a thrilling arrangement by music director/pianist Mark Hartman. He was joined by Alec Berlin on guitar, Jakubu Griffin on drums, Stantawn Kendrick on reeds, Brian Nash on keyboards, and Saadi Zain on bass. They all provided excellent support throughout the evening. Switching gears, Douglas went on to a monumentally soulful “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” that hand a four-handed, hypnotic piano arrangement (Nash joined Hartman). Then came Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” preceded by some hysterical patter. (A lyric from the song provided the title of the show.) It is regrettable that Douglas rarely does comedy numbers given her great sense of humor.

The variety continued with some classic standards—the delightfully jazzy “Who” and a low-key and very touching “You’ll Never Know” (a favorite of her mother’s) that featured a lovely piano solo), and hard-edged material such as Nina Simone’s “Work Song” and Lionel Bart’s “He Lives in a World of His Own.” That one used an appropriately James Bondish arrangement written for Dame Shirley Bassey. The evening concluded with fine performances of “True Colors” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Each song proved one thing: Natalie Douglas does it right!

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."