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High Standards: Legacy of the Great American Songbook in today's Gusto

Friday, February 17, 2012

Read Mary Kunz Goldman's preview of the High Standards: Legacy of the Great American Songbook in today's Gusto.

Salon singers: Silverstein sets up three cabaret shows in Buffalo

By Mary Kunz Goldman

News Classical Music Critic

Published:February 17, 2012, 12:00 AM

A ri Silverstein grew up in New York City, home of the Oak Room at the Algonquin, the Cafe Carlyle and other hallowed haunts of cabaret music.

But it was not until he was sent to Buffalo to attend Buffalo State College that he learned to appreciate this unique — and now nostalgic — art form.

At Buffalo State, Silverstein took the multimedia pop music course taught by legendary professor Charles Mancuso. He met Buffalo jazz and entertainment greats like Dodo Greene and Jackie Jocko. When he returned reluctantly to New York, he saw the Big Apple with new eyes.

He began exploring the city’s famous cabaret rooms, and meeting the artists, too.

He has made a point of thanking Buffalo for turning his world around. Last spring, Silverstein arranged a concert here by cabaret artist Ronnie Whyte. This year, he has expanded his vision.

Silverstein is collaborating with Buffalo State to bring in three cabaret artists. Each will give a talk/demonstration in the afternoon, followed by a concert in the evening at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

“There are a few legends left. We have to spend the time that we can with them,” Silverstein says. “People like this music. This music is timeless. When you hear the songs that Fred Astaire sang, they’re instantly timeless classics. Even young people, they’re playing them at their weddings. The music lingers around. And who knows? Maybe there will be a resurgence. That’s my hope.”

• Thursday: Steve Ross, known as “the Crown Prince of Cabaret,” is a leading performer of the songs known as the Great American Songbook. At 12:15 p.m. in Rockwell Hall, Room 124, Ross gives the talk “Saloon to Salon: Traveling With My Piano.”

At 7 p.m. in the Burchfield Penney auditorium, Ross will bring the music of Fred Astaire to life in “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.”

• March 1: Kathleen Landis is a singer/entertainer in the style of Hazel Scott, Diana Krall and Ann Hampton Calloway. At 12:15 p. m, she will discuss Alec Wilder’s book “American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950.” At 7 p.m., she performs “While We’re Young: A Tribute to Alec Wilder.” Both events take place in the Burchfield Penney auditorium.

• March 8: Bob Dorough, 89, is a longtime jazz-cabaret cult singer and songwriter who penned such classics as “I’m Hip” and “Devil May Care,” many in collaboration with his good friend Dave Frishberg. Dorough has not played Buffalo since 1994, when he gave a memorable appearance at the Calumet Arts Cafe.

At 12:15 p.m., he presents a discussion, “From Bebop to Schoolhouse Rock” and then performs at 7 p.m.; both events are in the Burchfield Penney auditorium.

If the Burchfield Penney auditorium is a somewhat sterile setting compared with the cabaret venues of yore, there is a reason for that. The world has changed, Silverstein says, and the old venues are disappearing.

“These were small, often dingy rooms in often low candlelight,” Silverstein says. “They would hold 50 to 100 people. They were intimate rooms. There was a hell of a lot of smoking, a lot of drinking,” he reflects. “I talk often with Ronnie Whyte about the timing. People would go to the theater, and eat dinner after the show, at about 10:30 or 11. They were out till 3 or 4 in the morning. They just don’t go out any more.”

Eventually, the cabaret acts in New York became expensive.

Great cabaret venues of New York have been closing. The venerable Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel was the latest to close, shutting its doors last week as a new owner rethinks the space.

Silverstein is glad to do what he can to keep the art alive in Buffalo.

“What a friend told me, you have to go to Buffalo to enjoy great cabaret, it’s true!” he says.•