Algonquin Oak Room
Get rid of Monday. That’s been the lament of hip New Yorkers who for years have searched in vain for something to do on the dullest night of the week. Theaters are dark, cabarets are closed, and there’s no place to go. The Algonquin has a cure for all that. The great Barbara Carroll is already playing classy jazz piano for Sunday brunch. Now Daryl Sherman, one of the coolest, most accomplished and hardworking singer-pianists in town, is holding court in the Oak Room for discerning cats looking for an alternative to Monday night Chinese takeout and bad movies at the neighborhood multiplex. Since she lost her long-standing gig playing Cole Porter’s Steinway in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Peacock Alley last May after 14 years, her appearances have been rare. Now she’s got a new home, and if her opening night was indicative, her living room is standing-room only.
Daryl is not one of those obvious jazz singers who scat lyrics, distort harmonies and improvise melodies. With her, it’s not about the singer, but the song. Whether she’s crooning her way through Cole Porter’s exquisite “Ours” or singing across the bar lines on Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke’s “Island in the West Indies,” she plays chords that form musical conversations with her bass player, Boots Maleson, and her swinging guitarist, James Chirillo. She calls her style “minimalist,” without flashy technique, and her Champagne bubble of a voice is so reminiscent of Blossom Dearie that it’s no wonder she shines so brightly on Blossom staples like “They Say It’s Spring” and “I’m Shadowing You.” But within her subtlety, there’s still a lot going on. She explores the subtext in both the singing and the playing. She’s no stranger to daring arpeggios and flatted fifths, but she doesn’t try to dazzle you with versatility or put you to the test with music that sounds like mathematics. Her chords are clear and sure, her phrasing is pristine, her songs are accessible and fun. If you want to get technical, she can sing a four-bar strain of notes, stretch it into the next measure, and at the end of the four bars still land on her feet. Turning the Gershwins’ bouncy “Things Are Looking Up” into a slow, wistful ballad is a surprise, and on Johnny Mercer’s charming stalking song “I’m Shadowing You,” written with Blossom Dearie, she milks it of so many flavors it’s like a Ben and Jerry’s jubilee. (Her new CD, out next month, is a tribute to Mercer’s centennial year celebration.) I guess the best thing I can say about Daryl Sherman is that she interprets standards without reconstructing them. She creates moods that turn each song in her vast repertoire into a miniature painting. In 60 minutes, with a diverse crowd to please, she manages to send everyone home balanced and happy. With high hopes that this weekly gig goes on forever, I can think of nothing better to do than spend an intimate musical Monday with a mellifluous meadowlark.