Music Preview: Bibi Ferreira at Symphony Space, New York City

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By Ernest Barteldes

Bibi Ferreira

Tuesday, Sept. 20 & 23

Symphony Space

8 PM

I have known about the legendary Brazilian diva Bibi Ferreira for a very long time – she has a long history as a singer, producer, actress and director going from the 1940s to present. She is still active in spite of being 94 years young – and gives no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

I did two interviews with her for The Brasilians over the past few years and was surprised not only by how articulate she was on the phone and also by her fantastic memory – she can remember details of shows she did generations ago as if she had walked out of stage five minutes ago. I was even more amazed to hear her live at Alice Tully Hall – hard to believe is was her New York debut – and heard her sing an array of hard tunes ranging from Verdi to Chico Buarque and Piaf – as if they were nothing.

And then there was Liza Minelli’s hilarious surprise appearance, when they shared the mike for a snippet of “Theme from New York, New York” – a tune made famous by Frank Sinatra but actually introduced by Minelli (go ahead, Google it) in 1972.

On her current show Four Times Bibi, she pays tribute to fado queen Amalia Rodrigues, Piaf, tango legend Carlos Gardel and none other than our own Frank Sinatra – an evening that will bring together various genres together in what promises to be nothing short of amazing – a show that is not to be missed.

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Remembering Natalie Cole

By Ernest Barteldes

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Natalie Cole didn’t really register into my musical radar during her early career – in the 1980s I was deep into doing musical research on the origins of blues and jazz and was listening to stuff no one my age did – my ‘pop’ was stuff like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Otis Redding, Etta James and Chuck Berry plus jazz icons such as Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong (thanks to this, I am able to write about music for all of you).

But when Cole released her now-classic Unforgettable… With Love (Elektra, 1991) I paid attention. I had been a fan of her father’s work, and it was refreshing to hear an album recorded with actual musicians at a time when everyone else seemed to rely synthesizers and computers. The title track, a duet with Natalie and her dad, became her signature song and was a bit overplayed at a time, but listening to the whole album reveals a burgeoning jazz singer with great pipes that completely changed her career.

I remember hearing another less-famous duet – one she recorded with Frank Sinatra on his “Duets” album (Capitol, 1993). The song was George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” in which she marvelously scatted during the instrumental break, making me remember of how Ella Fitzgerald improvised when singing alongside Sinatra over the years. That made me really pay attention to her, and from that point on I found myself with great respect to her talent.

I only got to hear her live once –  I am not sure if it was 2001 or 2002 – on a double bill at the City Center with Ray Charles. It was a memorable concert for many reasons: it was only my second show in New York, and I was thrilled to be able to hear two living legends on a single day.  We had lousy seats on the sixth floor, but the sound quality was great. Ray Charles kicked off the proceedings, doing classic songs such as “Hit The Road, Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind” – a tight set in which he played as many tunes as he could with the time he had.

Most of the audience was apparently there for Ray, so when he ended his set a lot of people left, which gave my companion and I a chance to sneak into a lower floor with better seats (we could have been ejected, but the person I went with had a bit of a devil-may-care attitude about things).  She came on after about half an hour. She was dressed in a form-fitting red dress and was very charming with the audience.  She sang mostly tunes from “Unforgettable” and “Stardust” (Elektra, 1996), closing with her R&B hit “This Will Be,” the sole song from her early career.

When I heard about her untimely passing, I found myself thinking about that one show I saw – a very happy occasion and a great memory of not one but two great performers who are now no longer among us – but still with us through the music they left behind.

At the Frank Sinatra Centennial Exhibit/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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By Ernest Barteldes

I cannot say that growing up I was much of a Frank Sinatra fan. Sure, I’d watched movies like Anchors Aweigh and On The Town (both with Gene Kelly) on TV but at 12 I had no idea that the old man singing on the TV broadcast of his show at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã soccer stadium was the same guy who sang about the Bronx being up and the Battery down in a sailor’s outfit. I believe I was first exposed to Frank Sinatra through my mom, but his music never really reached me until many years later when I heard about his 1992 Duets album, in which he shared the spotlight with the likes of Bono, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross. I remember marveling about how timeless these tunes sounded – that impression was further settled with Duets II a couple of years later, even though his voice was clearly tired as he struggled to continue relentlessly touring into his late 70s.

I didn’t really “get” Sinatra until I listened closely to his 1967 collaboration with Brazilian maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim.  It was then that I started to really hear how he carefully phrased each word and gave it a unique feel that few of his contemporaries – and all the standards singers that came after him – were able to match. That was confirmed as I listened to many of his re-releases, including his brilliant albums with Count Basie and Quincy Jones.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to the New York Public Library’s Sinatra exhibit, which was put together with the support of the Grammy Foundation and Sinatra’s family to celebrate his upcoming centennial, and I must say I was not at all disappointed. The show was divided between four sections, going from his youth all the way to his final days, when he sang his last notes at a show in California. IMG_1376 The first room comprises his growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey – there is a facsimile of a train with black and white images of his hometown going by, a door from his parents’ pub and other memorabilia, including an excerpt from his first radio appearance with the Hoboken Four (his first vocal group) and some personal effects of the era, including the ukulele he played to woo his first wife, Nancy. The second part of the exhibit is dedicated to his early movie career, with clips from the films mentioned earlier and his first Academy Award, earned for the short film “The Land I Live In.”  To me, the best pieces of memorabilia were the shoes he and Kelly wore on “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”. IMG_1378 The third room focuses on his Capitol and Reprise years along with his later films all the way to his final TV appearance as a grumpy old detective on the CBS show Magnum, PI.  There were a couple of interactive opportunities – a mixing board allowed visitors to “remix” one of his songs (I got rid of the orchestra, stripping down the music to bass, piano, guitar and drums)  and also a jukebox with a selection of his greatest hits. A whole part is dedicated to Sinatra’s longtime admiration and friendship with Ella Fitzgerald – his specials with her are shown on video, and one of the dresses she wore is on display.  It is also mentioned that there were plans to record a duet album, but that it never came together because of schedule conflicts. There is, of course, a whole section dedicated to the Rat Pack – but not with as much reverence as the part dedicated to Fitzgerald.

The final and most emotional part is dedicated to his later years – his paintings, his close relationship with his family (one small t-shirt had the words “My grandpa is Ol’ Blue Eyes”), golf clubs and personalized jackets. Towards the end of the show there was a booth in which amateur singers could record a “duet” with Sinatra and then finally one of his best late-career shows at the Concert for the Americas, featuring master guitarist Tony Mottola on a fantastic rendition of Jobim’s “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.”

The exhibit mostly glosses over Sinatra’s troubled relationships with Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow (they are present on the timelines on the walls) and there is no reference to his alleged mob ties and his political leanings. They do mention his support to Civil Rights causes, but the show is mostly about the artist, not the man – save for the final part.

I must say it was quite an emotional experience going through the whole thing, right from feeling the “rumble” of the wheels of the train that got Sinatra out of Hoboken, his albums and especially the videos featuring his son (who worked as musical director for his orchestra during Sinatra’s final decade) Frank Sinatra, Jr, his daughter Nancy Sinatra and his granddaughter Angela Lambert, who discusses Frank’s paintings. The exhibit answered the question I had from the moment I walked in: would it do justice to the man and his music? It certainly does, and it is something I am glad to have seen.