Saturday, June 9, 2018

Last Night in the Carlton Room: Bruce Henry Was Cookin' Hot

Make no mistake, we've got a jazz club here in the Northland as intimate and compelling as any you would find anywhere. The Carlton Room is a gift to the community, and it's been exciting seeing the community embrace it. Here are my notes to myself on this weekend's featured singer, who will be putting on a second show tonight.

After a couple numbers featuring the backing band of Ryan Frane (piano), Matt Mobley (standup bass) and Swanny Swanson on the drum kit, Bruce Henry took the stage to show us his range. Within a minute the full house was eating out of his hand, and it never let up. Another great performer at a venue that hands down seems to have it all.

The singer opened with a Charlie Parker bebop tune, "Yes Is Best," showing his considerable vocal range and swinging moves. Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" followed, a song written by eden ahbez that was Nat King Cole's first solo hit and stayed at the top of the charts eight weeks.

There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

It's a beautiful song and, as with everything else, it was beautifully rendered. (You can find all the lyrics here to see why it was such a hit for NKC.) He followed this with a song popularized by Ol' Blue Eyes, "The Second Time Around."

More than a jazz singer, Bruce Henry is a performer and a story teller. He interjected a few stories about things he learned from Michael Jackson and Tony Bennett, giving an example of how persuasive he was as a performer himself. Then we swung into a Duke Ellington number, "Postponed."

Song selection says as much about a singer as his or her stage presence, and hands down Bruce Henry served up a fabulous multi-course meal. As many of you know (especially if you read my blog post from Thursday) Bobby Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago this past week. Henry and the band's channelling of Marvin Gaye's poignant "What's Goin' On?" sent electricity through the room.

They finished off the first set with a bluesy rock piece, "Goin' to the Country" about brighter days and dreaming of life in Spain.

* * * *
If you've never been to Cookin' @ the O, it should be noted that there is also real cooking here. When we arrived Chef Paul was in action on the grill out back and in the kitchen, setting up the culinary features that accompanied our entertainment. There's also a fully stocked bar as well, so you really can have it all.

* * * *
The trio opened the second set with "One Day My Prince Will Come" and then Bruce Henry returned to the stage. He shared a humorous story about something that happened to him while singing onstage with his eyes closed and told us he has a whole catalogue of stories like that and is working on a book.

"Stand By Me" gave us chills, and I overheard someone behind me ask how they can be so tight as a band having never performed together before. That's the magic of jazz here, though.

They followed with Ray Charles' playful "I Got News For You."
You said before me met 
That your life was awful tame 
Well, I took you to a night club 
And the whole band knew your name...

View from a staircase window. Glory Pool and Fountain
on the right. Luscious views abound.
"Summertime" rolled out next... nothing pedestrian here. Bruce Henry, like all the greats, takes it and makes it his own.

Introducing a Mongo Santamaria song gave the singer a chance to tell his own story, about how rewarding and fortunate he was to find his roots... his great, great, great etc. grandmother eight generations back whose name was Tamar, brought over as a slave from Sierra Leone. The song, also performed by Coltrane, begins, "I dream of a land where my soul is from..." (Mongo Blue)

There was something magical about the evening. Songs that made us smile, and songs that made us think, yet inspired, that lifted us somehow. Closing out, Bruce Henry delivered a soulful, heartfelt rendition of the classic "House of the Rising Sun." Enthusiastic standing ovation followed.

Thank you to Glenn and Emily for creating this space, for setting the bar high, for putting it all together. It's been a lot of work, but the entire community is richer for it.

Related Links
10 Things You Didn't Know About Oldenburg House
Oldenburg House website. There may still be a few tickets for tonight's show.

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn 
Is just to love and be loved in return"
--Nat King Cole

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