A Cabaret Prince: Be Sure Not to Miss Todd Murray

todd 5228 retouched 1 2 A Cabaret Prince: Be Sure Not to Miss Todd Murray In a bankrupt music business where the Great American Songbook is sadly disappearing, new singers with taste and knowledge are afforded few opportunities to play the major cabaret rooms and supper clubs, and the chance of cutting a new CD is more daunting than living long enough to see an A-list state dinner in the Obama White House. This is especially true of male singers, who are usually expected to wait and shout to the second balcony and never show sensitivity. So it’s always a cause for rejoicing when a cool freshman discovery comes along. One of them is Kurt Reichenbach, the West Coast golden boy with chops like Mel Torme and Dick Haymes. Mark the dates now for a rare New York appearance at the Iridium Jazz Club on Nov. 9. Another one is Todd Murray, a cabaret prince headed for the big cabaret throne if ever I’ve spotted one. He’s at the Metropolitan Room through Oct. 4 in a faultless show he correctly calls “Croon.”

 

Defined as the artful singing of soft, romantic lyrics through an amplified microphone to convey intimacy, crooning almost disappeared with Crosby, Sinatra, Torme and Haymes, although Tony Bennett is doing his best to keep their legacy alive. Todd Murray has all the spot-on ingredients: a throaty and mellow baritone, perfect diction, meticulous phrasing and great time. Matinee-idol looks don’t hurt, either, but it’s his material that brings back the floating, relaxed memories of the big-band era. From an understated “Lover” that is miles away from the gunfire of Peggy Lee’s hit version, to a velvety “The Nearness of You,” he honors a cherished tradition with a style uniquely his own.  Accompanied by the chords of Sean Harkness’ aching guitar, he was especially moving on an arrangement of “You Are Too Beautiful” that really demonstrates the early influence of Crosby, king of the crooners (“Va-va-voom”), and the rarely heard “Learn to Croon” (introduced by Bing himself in the 1933 Paramount musical College Humor) really cements it. As Mr. Murray moves through the decades, from the Roaring Twenties (leave it to the Catholic church to denounce crooners in raccoon coats like Rudy Vallee as “corrupters of youth”) to Sinatra and the war years, veteran New York pianist Alex Rybeck and bassist Steve Doyle lend expert support, with a dreamy arrangement of “You’ll Never Know” (introduced by Alice Faye, but immortalized by Dick Haymes). I felt privileged to listen. By the time he reaches the 1950s and Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” the organic process of crooning was almost finished, replaced in the 1970s by the clatter of disco and other related junk music. But Mr. Murray pulls from his hat more surprises, including some new songs of hopeful proof that crooning is not over yet. This is a crisp autumn evening of entertainment as bracing as a toddy, spent in the company of an exceptional new singer who, like Porgy, may be on a climb, but oh lordy, he’s on his way.

rreed@observer.com