Barbara Carroll Performs at Birdland
The elegant jazz pianist Barbara Carroll opened her show at Birdland on Saturday evening with a lightly swinging performance of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” a song that never loses its relevance as it seesaws between dread and exuberance. From its opening phrase, “There may be trouble ahead,” it addresses the age-old question: How is it possible to live happily in a world that often seems on the verge of collapse? The answer is the same today as it was 1936: Whenever possible, live in the moment.
It led off a show in which Ms. Carroll delicately addressed the recent shootings in Paris with a suite of songs about the City of Light that included “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” “If You Leave Paris” and a swinging rendition of “April in Paris” that echoed the famous Count Basie recording.
Ms. Carroll, who is soon to celebrate her 90th birthday with undiminished vitality, has an essentially sunny musical sensibility. But during “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” the harmonies briefly became dissonant, and her musical partner, the great bassist Jay Leonhart, bowing his instrument, inserted an ominous threnody that seemed to acknowledge the threat of jihadism.
Musicians with an unerring taste in great songs, Ms. Carroll and Mr. Leonhart performed a set that maintained the same balance of light and shadow as Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” An instrumental version of “Gee, Officer Krupke” carried playfulness to the brink of comedy. A lush film-noir mood washed through a coupling of David Raksin’s “Laura” and his theme from “The Bad and the Beautiful.”
Ms. Carroll brought her mischievous parlando vocal style, descended from Mabel Mercer, to Cole Porter’s “Looking at You” and the Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh standard “You Fascinate Me So,” whose narrator admires “the sweet geography descending from your eyebrow to your toe.”
Both vocally and in her semiclassical arrangements of Stephen Sondheim songs, Ms. Carroll is one of his most insightful interpreters. Her quiet, contemplative rendition of “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” from “Anyone Can Whistle,” expressed an even deeper, more personal response to life’s uncertainty than the Berlin classic and is rooted in a sturdy romantic partnership: “I’m sure of here and now and us together.”