Ken Greves: Birthday Celebration

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Ken Greves

Birthday Celebration

Pangea, NYC, April 10, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Ken Greves

Ken Graves came to Pangea to celebrate his birthday as part of its Wednesday Jazz Nites series. He quickly identified himself as a “vocalist with jazz sensibilities,” and in performance style he’s in the grand tradition of saloon singers. He caressed his lyrics in a soft and seductive manner as he drew his audience to him as though he was sharing wonderful secrets with them. In close collaboration with pianist Francesco Pollon and bassist Yoshi Waki, he created a low-key, pleasurable evening.

His opening number, “I’m Old Fashioned” (Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer), very much suited both his performance style and his personality. He followed that with a second Kern tune, the melting “Remind Me” (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), which thematically blended well with the lesser-known “Forgetful” (George Handy) to make a strong impact—smart cabaret work. A fine arrangement that included a bass solo launched a switch in style that led into the torchy “When the Sun Comes Out” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler). The delicious lyrics and bouncy melody of “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do)” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) made for a very nice change of pace, while “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (Tommy Wolf/Fran Landesman) brought a more effective torch to the stage.

Next came a smart blending of songs that all reflected on the past: “When Yesterday I Loved You” (Alex Wilder/Loonis McGlohon), “Yesterdays” (Kern/Otto Harbach), and “All My Tomorrows” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn). This was an emotional highlight of the evening, with its subtle passion and touching introspection, and it played to all of Greves strengths as a performer. The middle song allowed Pollon a chance to show off his beautiful ardor at the keyboards. For a shift of mood, the singer plunged into the Kenny Rankin/Ruth Batchelor “Haven’t We Met,” one of several off-kilter waltzes during the evening which appeared to be a favorite genre of his.

Some interesting pairings of songs followed that were smart cabaret design. First came two songs that set texts by Shakespeare to the music by Sir John Dankworth—“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day” and “Who Is Sylvia.” This was an intriguing mix of classic lyrics and jazz-influenced melodies. Even more jazz-like were two flower-based Billy Strayhorn works: “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” and “Lotus Blossom” (with Roger Schore & Carole Sloane); both were given almost classical arrangements. Shifting the rhythms of the moment, her gave us a high-speed “You Fascinate Me So” (Coleman/ Leigh). The end of the show brought the most personal works, two songs written in part by Greves. They were a tone poem entitled “Remember the Rain” (with Bill Evans) and a joyful singing waltz–yes, another one–based on Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers.” His encore was a lilting “I’ll Take Romance” (Ben Oakland/Oscar Hammerstein II) that ended the show and allowed Greves to display his romantic and positive personality and to send the audience on their way home.

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."