With a stunning backdrop of the Manhattan Skyline, 67 year old pianist Monty Alexander took center stage Saturday night hoping to wind back the clock and turn Jazz at Lincoln Center into Jilly’s Saloon, a famed Rat Pack hangout of the 1960s.
Accompanied by a group of masterful musicians and vocalists, Alexander paid tribute to his heroes Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole in a cabaret-like show with American standards such as “Come Fly With Me”, “My Kind of Town” and “L-O-V-E.”
For the role of Old Blue Eyes, Alexander enlisted 22 year-old baritone James DeFrances while tapping charismatic jazz artist Allan Harris to play the “King.” Both traded classics and made for a “swinging session,” but the real delight here was the show’s supporting cast.
Blues guitarist Russell Malone’s haunting solo rendition of “Where or When” might have easily stolen the show. It was the one interpretation of the night that seemed entirely heartfelt and evocative of the nostalgia Alexander was looking to capture with this concert series. Also impressive was percussionist Bobby Thomas Jr., who seemed to hypnotize the audience every time he was given the spotlight.
Alexander’s appreciation for the music of Sinatra and Cole is sincere, and for jazz lovers the tunes are timeless and a joy to experience live – especially by such a talented bunch. But somewhere a note is missed when trying to strike the right tone.
While DeFrances holds his own as a singer, he underwhelms as a performer – never quite looking comfortable with the rest of the group. That, is not how we all remember the Chairman of the Board. Thankfully, Harris picks up the slack with his exuberance and Alexander’s anecdotes serve as a reminder that he himself is a direct link to the Rat Pack era.