A Swingin' Birdland Christmas

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday December 23, 2014

Jim Caruso, Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch
Jim Caruso, Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch   (Source:Kevin Alvey)

Is there anything cozier than sitting down in an intimate jazz club to enjoy a heartwarming holiday cabaret show? We don't think so. This week at the legendary jazz club near Times Square, indulge yourself in holiday bliss at "A Swingin' Birdland Christmas."

The consummate pianist Billy Stritch gathers his friends Jim Caruso and Klea Blackhurst for their fifth annual celebration of song, based on their annual album of the same name.

Accompanied by Steve Doyle on stand-up bass and the truly rocking drummer Daniel Glass, the singers took turns singing solo as well as together, as Stritch tinkled the ivories in expert fashion.

After an instrumental intro by Stritch, Blackhurst lends her Ethel Merman-esque voice to the Kay Thompson classic, "It's the Holiday Season." They follow this with Irving Berlin's classic, "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." They had the crowd laughing with Blackhurst vowing to ditch her wrap to cuddle on his lap.

Blackhurst kept them in good humor as she sang the "Christmas Waltz," with Stritch providing a running commentary in harmony.

Caruso took over next, with a new addition to their repertoire; Bing Crosby's "Little Jack Frost, Get Lost," a tune about getting cock-blocked by the cold that shuts down everything from Lovers Lane to the benches in the park.

Then Stritch showed off his skills with Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" telling the song's origin story, a tale of two Jews roasting in a Los Angeles heat wave, and writing a Christmas classic.

Blackhurst sings The Carpenters "It's Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children," singing of Yuletide Square (hmm... must be near Union Square). Caruso sings a song written by his buddy, John Pizzarelli. And Stritch wows the crowd with a super-classy rendition of Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

They do a number of medleys and mash-ups, combining "Sun Valley Serenade" and Rosemary Clooney's absurd song, "Snow," in which they sing, "I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow." Who would want that? Calling it 'the ugly Christmas sweater of songs,' they pair up a lilting waltz "Santa Make Me a Bride for Christmas" with another piece of Clooney mishegoss, "Suzy Snowflake."

They do a mash-up of "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland" that can't be beat," and show off several different versions of "Jingle Bells." Caruso sings a tune about regifting, and they even do a fast-moving shopping song to the tune of "American Bandstand."

They get bilingual with "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus" and "Feliz Navidad," and Blackhurst whips out the ukulele to sing Bing Crosby's "Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)." Throw in impressions of the Osmonds, Elvis and Cher singing "O Holy Night," ŗ la "O nah-yet, de vah-yuhn," and you've got a holiday show custom made for the gays.

"A Swingin' Birdland Christmas" runs through Dec. 24 at Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. For information or tickets, visit www.birdlandjazz.com

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.