His audition at Bobby Short’s piano in Café Carlyle was a success, in large part, he admitted, thanks to two blond women in the audience who requested the only Noel Coward number he knew, “I Went to a Marvelous Party.” “It’s little chords here and there, but it’s all spoken word and it’s really weird and it’s very gay and very … you know,” he said, letting his hands dance in the air. However it was, the hotel brass were floored, and he landed one of the most desirable gigs in Jazzland.
Mr. Gillespie has a regular following of New Yorkers and hotel guests, but he has one particularly devoted fan: Carlyle resident Joyce Johnson, who is producing Mr. Gillespie’s forthcoming album, Chris Gillespie Live at the Carlyle. The wife of successful realist sculptor J. Seward Johnson, whose bronze figures can be found in major cities around the world, Ms. Johnson remembers the first time she heard Mr. Gillespie play. “I was having tea in the gallery [at the Carlyle] and I heard a voice coming over … and I said, ‘This person is sounding different, there’s something different going on here. This is a real musician,’” she recalled. She’s far from alone in her praise; the writer Wilfrid Sheed was so impressed by the recording that he offered to write the CD’s liner notes.
Though it was his voice and piano performance that first struck Ms. Johnson, she became exceedingly impressed by Mr. Gillespie’s careful lyrical consideration. “With Chris, he might as well be speaking Shakespeare, the way he articulates,” she explained over the phone from Nantucket, where she owns another home. “When he reaches out to people, it’s not through where he has come from, but through the words of the song that are the bridges and the transitions to reach people.”
“All of the tunes have a story that comes with them,” says Mr. Gillespie. At the end of the day, he can only depend on bringing his own intuition, he says, “into something that is as normal as potato soup [though] sometimes I go so far out I fall, I fall flat on my face.”
Chris Gillespie plays Tuesdays thru Saturdays, from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle, 35 East 76th St.