Natalie Douglas ‘Sammy’ at The Pheasantry | Review
by Chris Omaweng FEBRUARY 26, 2022
There was a lot to Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990), whose popularity played its part in improving race relations in the United States. Natalie Douglas speaks with enthusiasm in a show simply called Sammy, and at length, describing in detail certain key moments in Davis’ life and career in between musical numbers – and without notes. One need not have read up about Davis at all before seeing Douglas’ show, for all is explained, and at the same time those who are very familiar with his life story will find enjoyment in hearing it all again, such is Douglas’ level of engagement with the audience.
It isn’t a sugar-coated account, which makes it credible – an emphasis on the ‘s’ in the word ‘wives’, for instance, is a subtle acknowledgement that Davis didn’t always marry for love. Interestingly, his first and third wives were white, and in the mid-Sixties, when he was in a Broadway production called Golden Boy, a musical based on the play of the same name, he played a character who had relations with a white woman, which attracted its fair share of controversy, social attitudes at the time being what they were.
In 1954, a fork somewhere along Route 66 was the scene of a nasty accident. A driver had taken the wrong turning at the fork and had decided to reverse her car in order to correct her mistake. In Douglas’ version of events, it was foggy, so Davis did not see what was going on in time and slammed into the other driver. In the centre of the steering wheel of his Cadillac was a metallic horn button which was dislodged on impact and struck his left eye, such that he could only ever see out of his right eye.
Mark Hartman was at the piano, gliding through an eclectic mix of songs, ranging from the joyous ‘Sing You Sinners’ to the dreamlike ‘Hey There’ from The Pajama Game to a gorgeous, if different, rendering of Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr Bojangles’. The last two numbers were polar opposites. ‘The Candy Man’, Davis’ only Billboard number one single, was a song he didn’t want to record initially – he just didn’t like it. This was followed by ‘Ol’ Man River’, from Showboat, about a black man who is weary from injustice as much as he is from overwork: as Douglas notes, it’s a problem that has yet to go away.
There were local references, too – Davis had come to Britain multiple times over the years, including an appearance at the 1960 Royal Variety Performance. He also featured in the 1968 West End production of Golden Boy, the first book musical to play at the London Palladium. Not every show at the Pheasantry bothers with an interval: the quality and quantity of material in this concert more than justified having two acts. Douglas’ vocal range is remarkable, her stage presence is magnetic, and her performance an utter delight.
Review: Natalie Douglas Defies Explanation in BEST OF TRIBUTES: THE WOMEN at Birdland Theater
by Karis Rogerson Oct. 05, 2021
Natalie Douglas was excited to be on stage. She was returning to Birdland Theater on Oct. 1, 2021, in "Best of Tributes: The Women", with a show that sampled songs from tribute shows she had previously created for Dolly Parton, Nina Simone, and Roberta Flack. The award-winning performer was in excellent spirits as she came onto the stage and greeted the audience. Missing a cue at the beginning of the first song, she laughed it off, restarted, and dove into Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," which was a perfectly exuberant and jaunty song to kick off the evening.
Douglas is a vibrant performer; she inhabits the stage as though it's just a couch at her best friend's house, exuding comfort and easing into conversation. She truly makes you feel like she's having a one-on-one conversation with you, not putting on a show for a packed house. It seems as though she is fully herself in front of the audience; there's no hint of artifice or showmanship, just an extremely talented woman bestowing her voice on her friends. As she was about to launch in the 12th song, the "final" song, she joked about how of course it wasn't really the last song of the set, as there would be an encore. She teased the audience about it being a cabaret open secret and joked as if we were all friends so she could be honest with us.
Between Douglas and music director Mark Hartman, the amount of talent on stage was honestly intimidating. Many of the songs held moments in which Hartman could show off his skills and it was truly a beautiful collaboration between the two. Douglas often smiled in the middle of her songs, indicating just how pleased and joyful she was to be performing this set.
When introducing "House of the Rising Sun," a song that has been covered many times by many different artists, Douglas shared that her favorite version was Nina Simone's. She showcased her huge range and impressive ability to hit super low notes as well as big, powerful tunes in one song. Her take on "Jolene" was absolutely stunning, a true celebration of Dolly Parton's artistry and original work that nonetheless has a very "Natalie Douglas" spin on it. She also sang "Tryin' Times," which Roberta Flack, whom Douglas described as the "queen of duets," performed with Donny Hathaway.
When she sang "Farther Along," a hymn that she said "sums up the Eastern definition of karma, but in Christian," the layers of meaning in the lyrics bled through her voice. Douglas' voice is rich and resonant, perfect for songs like that one. She also spoke about Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam" after singing it, sharing that Simone wrote the song in 30 minutes as an outpouring of rage over attacks on Black people in the South. Douglas expressed awe at Simone's "genius" and the "magic" that it took to take rage and horror and turn it into something beautiful.
The encore song, "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," ended the night on a magical swing. Douglas is the kind of performer who is hard to review, because she's so undoubtedly talented and good at what she does - the singing, sharing, entertaining, all of it - and frankly how can my words do her music justice? They can't: she has to be seen to be believed.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Ella Birdland, NYC
by Ron Forman January 20, 2020
Ella Fitzgerald had the title First Lady of Song, and Natalie Douglas lovingly explained in words and music why that title was well earned in the latest of Douglas’ Tributes series at Birdland. She combined interesting, amusing, touching, and sometimes sad stories taken from Fitzgerald’s life with her always on-the-money vocals. The set list incorporated songs from Fitzgerald’s legendary Songbook series for Verve records, hit singles, live performances, and a few rarities that I had never heard. She was backed by a swinging trio led by music director Billy Stritch (piano), Jonathan Michel (bass), and Mark McLean (drums), all of whom were given an opportunity to display their talent with solo turns.
Douglas opened with a swinging “Too Darn Hot.” She then performed “How Long Has This Been Going On,” including the rarely heard verse, as Fitzgerald did in her George and Ira Gershwin Songbook. Reminiscing that her dad used to sing it to her, Douglas did a fun-filled “Cow Cow Boogie.” After telling how Fitzgerald met Duke Ellington at a battle-of-the-bandsevent that he had with Chick Webb, Douglas sang his “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” (lyric Paul Francis Webster) including the verse, which I had never heard. A super-fast performance of Fitzgerald’s biggest hit record “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” had the audience singing along. Stritch joined Douglas for “Can’t We Be Friends.”
The show was performed on Martin Luther King Day which led to Douglas reminding us of Fitzgerald’s commitment to the civil rights movement. Fitzgerald wrote “It’s Up to You and Me” immediately after Dr. King was assassinated, and Douglas’ moving performance of it was memorable. After mentioning that Ella was always hip, Douglas did “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The Rodgers and Hart Songbook is my personal favorite of the songbooks that Fitzgerald recorded, and Douglas did a soft and very effective “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from it. She closed the show telling how Fitzgerald’s son hired a band to play outside her house when she was dying, and Douglas movingly closed the show, almost tearfully, with Fitzgerald’s favorite song, sung immediately after her passing, Billy Strayhorn’s, “Something to Live For.”
Review: Natalie Douglas Tributes Joni Mitchell at Birdland Jazz Club
by Chris Struck Dec. 01, 2019
Natalie Douglas. In a sentence? An engaging personality with a genuine heart, who is one of the best performers to regularly star on the Birdland stage. After seeing another of Douglas's tribute shows, I came away in a better mood than when I arrived at Birdland. Part of this is just Natalie being Natalie as she jokes with the crowd, smiles and does all the little pieces of cabaret right. She finds a way to make the audience the focal point yet enjoys the limelight. She champions all the people who make it happen while also being the one putting words to the melody. One of the most fun cabaret styles of show to see is when a singer spotlights a performer (hence Natalie Douglas tributes series), however, sometimes I feel like the performer herself is lost behind the veneer of the caricature they craft. Not Natalie. She respects the songs, the artist she profiles, and shares the backstory of the actor/actress, but, she also remains Natalie Douglas, the charming, sweet, wonder lady who can stun on a Cher song while also be giddy about helping children learn how to sing from Matilda.
In her latest Tributes show, Douglas paid homage to Joni Mitchell, a woman who needs little introduction. Having recently seen another Mitchell show, though, I knew there'd be plenty of Mitchell's secrets to hear and I found myself intrigued by where Douglas's show might differ. For the most part the information was similar, except instead of bullet point events, Douglas also shared why Joni Mitchell wrote a song about "Little Green" or another about "The Magdalene Laundries." In some cases, the reasons were rather innocuous such as the classic, "For Free" being written about a clarinet player on the side of the street. On the other hand, in the case of "Little Green" it was a tribute to a daughter Mitchell had to give away when living in poverty, whom she had named Kelly. (Referencing the Irish association with the name Kelly and Green, which has since become a color wheel choice available at your local hardware store). Usually these songwriting tidbits weren't so dramatic, and interestingly Douglas was able to often tie them to her own life in some way. Such as in the case of "Little Green" when she shared her own adoption story.
Perhaps that's another reason why Douglas's shows ring true as both genuine and fresh. She injects a little of herself into her shows, including in the song selection. She didn't simply do all of Mitchell's greatest hits, but also chose songs that she remembered loving as a child such as "Urge for Going." Despite growing up in sunny southern California, and the song being about winter coming to a small town in Canada, epitomized in the line, "I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown," this song of longing touched Douglas memorably. Mitchell's music has touched many and through Douglas we experienced that anew whether it was on the lyrics, "You paved paradise and put up a parking lot," or "I wish I had a river I could sail away on," the journeys of Mitchell and Douglas felt intertwined. And ultimately when Douglas sang, "Both Sides Now," I felt like I was seeing the song lyrics in a new light; Natalie Douglas's light.
It was a pleasure to watch Douglas perform. She was joined with one of my favorite accompanists in Brian Nash. Alec Berlin took the guitar and the aptly named Jonathan Michel had the bass. I was happy to see Jerome Jennings behind the drums, having seen him only days before working with Paula West at Dizzy's Club. A clear signal of his versatility and work ethic as he's traded high profile venues in successive nights and showcased well-practiced ability. Douglas's tribute shows run once a month, and generally feature a new performer being tributed, although she did say that she'd be bringing a few back from this year due to popular demand.
Review: NATALIE DOUGLAS TRIBUTES Continues to Wow at Birdland
by Stephen Mosher Sep. 24, 2019
"I had wanted to do a Nancy Wilson show for such a long time, but I didn't know for sure if other people were as obsessed as I. We talked about it and there were people who said 'Oh, I don't know if she's famous enough' and there were the people who thought that I meant Mary Wilson..."
Natalie Douglas' comments at the end of her show last night drew a lot of laughs from the full house at Birdland, but the real laughs should have been about anyone thinking that Miss Nancy Wilson wasn't famous enough for someone to spend an hour, even two hours, singing music representative of her immense artistry and body of work. Fortunately for that Birdland audience, Natalie Douglas has exquisite taste and, after a lifetime of idolizing the woman labeled "A singer's singer" by many, she decided that, yeah, Nancy Wilson was worth a tribute evening.
During his intro to the evening, the always elegant Impressaro Jim Caruso jokes that Natalie Douglas has done 47 million performances on their stage - and though the number is, perhaps, slightly inflated, the sentiment is on the money because Natalie Douglas is the Queen of Birdland, the cornerstone of their programming and one of their brightest lights. Her Tributes series always draws huge crowds, even on a night celebrating an artist like Nancy Wilson who, for some, might not be famous enough but who, for others, is the be-all, end-all of vocal artistry. At the top of that be-all, end-all list is Ms. Douglas, who opened the night in full swing mode with "You Ain't Had The Blues." Explaining to the audience that she had been rehearsing the show since she was about four years old, Douglas assured all that they were a much better audience than her cats and stuffed animals, before detailing her love of the venerable vocalist who started her career at the age of 15. "She was always smart, always elegant, always abso-positively sure of herself" enthralled Douglas, "She had this supreme confidence, she absolutely knew who she was."
Nancy Wilson sang a lot. A LOT. And choosing from her library of music had to be difficult for Natalie Douglas, who eschewed a lot of the jazzy uptempo numbers made famous by Wilson. While some might have liked a little "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" or the incomparable uptempo Wilson versions of "Moon River" or "Almost in Your Arms," Ms. Douglas opted for an evening of, mostly, ballads and slow, sexy, rhythm and blues "I always loved a torch song... I don't know why but even as a five-year-old I really enjoyed being in my room and breaking my own heart." The truth is, Natalie Douglas is one of the few artists who can get away with offering an evening of slow music because both her vocal and her storytelling skills are a match for those of Miss Nancy Wilson.
The music from Nancy Wilson's canon that was covered included some of her most famous hits, and aficionados of the self-named song stylist could appreciate that Douglas chose to cover each song with just enough of Nancy Wilson and just enough of Natalie Douglas to keep happy the fans of either artist. Last night's rendition of "The Masquerade is Over" used the arrangement and orchestration made famous by the legend, but the performance was all Douglas, with low, slow, rich, rewarding notes that reach on forever, making every moment an agonizing, tantalizing, emotional rollercoaster of pain from the story being sung, and satisfaction from the way it was being sung. The iconic "Guess Who I Saw Today" was clearly a new experience from some members of the audience, reacting with gasps and verbal exclamations at the famous last sentence, all of it delivered, neatly wrapped with a bow on top, by Douglas' supreme acting skills. Indeed, during the performance of "All Night Long," Natalie Douglas stood so still, with only the activity displaying across her face, that the only words that could spring into the mind of this writer were: Excess within control.
Speaking of "All Night Long," it was wise of Ms. Douglas to sandwich the tune in-between "Angel Eyes" and "Love Won't Let Me Wait," but one wonders if there weren't couples who wanted to rush home immediately after those three numbers, for Nancy Wilson had a knack for creating music fitting for the bedroom, whether it be to sleep or not sleep - and Ms. Douglas certainly did right by Miss Wilson when recreating that mood, bless the hearts of the couples in the audience.
When not engaged in the act of singing the music of her idol, Natalie Douglas talked about Nancy Wilson candidly and admiringly. And although her facts about Miss Wilson were interesting, the most fun chat came when Douglas recounted stories of the times she met Nancy Wilson, meetings made possible because they lived in the same California neighborhood ("because, segregation, Yay!") and the times she saw Wilson perform live ("You could always tell when she really, really loved the audience because she would add songs to the set, and if she didn't she would cut songs - one time she sang about three songs and then she left!"). These little bits of chatter bring Douglas to the room, while Douglas brings Wilson to the audience, with notes so low, notes so big that one wonders if they are coming from the same woman. The range Ms. Douglas exhibits, vocal and emotional, could make a cynic believe in Santa. She lives inside the music, lives for the music, it is joyful and a beautiful sight to behold.
Working alongside Maestro Jon Weber, who kicks off numbers by thumping his heart with his hand, Ms. Douglas fills the rest of the stage with astonishing talents from fellow female musicians Aneesa Strings on acoustic bass and Shirazette Tinnin on drums. Together, the fierce foursome provided the incredibly happy crowd at Birdland with an evening so enjoyable that, when the time time to say goodbye, there was an actual collective whine - not a groan or a sigh, a whine. Understandable, because the people love Natalie Douglas and they love her Tributes.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Judy Birdland, NYC,
by Elizabeth Ahlfors June 24, 2019
What a combo! Natalie Douglas and Judy Garland, two different personalities but both storytellers loaded with emotion, vocal range, and an extraordinary sensitivity to interpret songs, diving right to their hearts. Garland’s classic songs were at times wistful, romantic, joyous, and heartbreaking. Natalie Douglas presented it all in her “Pride Week Tribute” which, of course, was a perfect time to salute this star of stars.
While Douglas did not impersonate her, Garland’s spirit was present throughout the evening. Garland spoke to feelings, not intellect; she was inspiring. Douglas, a charismatic mix of chatty joy and authority, gave us her own open heart and extraordinary vocal range.
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Along with her long-time crackerjack music director/pianist, Mark Hartman, she skillfully delivered the familiar arrangements that accompanied Garland. A multifaceted backup band included Shirazette Tinnin on drums, Saadi Zain on bass, David Ashton on reeds, and Jim Lutz on trombone.
How do you choose which Judy Garland songs to sing in a tribute? It can’t be the entire songbook (“She recorded everything!”). But Douglas’ tribute included 15 selections that are Garland favorites. Well-represented was composer Harold Arlen; the show opened with an exuberant presentation of his “Get Happy” (with Ted Koehler), described by Arlen as a “rhythm song with the feel of a spiritual,” and closed with Garland’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow” (E.Y. Harburg). In between were some Arlen torch songs. Douglas was outstanding on “Stormy Weather” (Koehler), her warm alto throaty with long lines of despair; “The Man That Got Away” (Ira Gershwin), and “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Johnny Mercer). Douglas delved into her songs with color and nuance, often ending with tears, and with ours as well.
She switched images, her voice lighter and brighter as she recalled the earnest crush of a starstruck teenager gazing at a movie star’s photo and singing “Dear Mr. Gable” (“You Made Me Love You”) (James V. Monaco/Joseph McCarthy). With Roger Edens’ swooning teen comments, the rendition was really more sweet than sappy.
Also from a Garland film, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, was “Nobody’s Baby” (Milton Ager/Benny Davis/Lester Santly), sung with Edens’ lyric additions for Garland.
Hartman joined Douglas for Irving Berlin’s jaunty “A Couple of Swells” and after a stumble with “Smile” (John Turner/Geoffrey Parsons/Charlie Chaplin), Douglas and the band delivered the breathless complexity of “The Trolley Song.
” Douglas’ thoughtful rendition of “It Never Was You” (Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson) was stirring. Songwriters Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager’s “Come in from the Rain” was their Judy Garland-type song written after Garland’s death in June 1969.
The show ended with “By Myself” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz) and “Just in Time” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green), both staples of the canon.
Douglas did not include the usual amount of patter that I always find informative, but perhaps choosing such inimitable songs with their memorable arrangements, delivered with Douglas passion and dedication, made up for it. If Judy Garland is no longer around to sing it, Natalie Douglas, one of cabaret’s most versatile and vocally sparkling singers, fortunately is.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Roberta Birdland, NYC
by Peter Haas March 25, 2019
Two grand ladies of song were spotlighted together on a March evening at Birdland. One was Grammy Award winner Roberta Flack—not present in person, but represented in a tribute to her through the songs she has performed during her career.
Providing the honors, with grand singing, warmth, a sense of fun, and Flack background notes, was Natalie Douglas. On stage with her, contributing bright accompaniment throughout, were music director Mark Hartman on piano, Shirazette Tinin on drums, Saadi Zain on electric and acoustic bass, and Eli Katz Zoller on guitar.
The program featured a dozen-plus Flack favorites. Among them: “Feel Like Making Love”(Eugene MacDaniels)—lilting and sweet; “Let It Be Me” (Mann Curtis/Pierre DeLanoe/Gilbert Bécaud)—gentle and heartfelt; “Tryin’ Times” (Donny Hathaway/Leroy Hutson)—referring to the early 1970s, when, noted Douglas, “things were complicated”; a plaintive “I’m the Girl” (James Alan Shelton); “Business Goes on as Usual” (Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff, which Douglas described as “political around the edges”); and a driving “No Tears” (by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter).
The evening included two fine guest vocalists: David Raleigh, joining Douglas on “Where Is the Love?” (MacDonald and Salter), and Devin Roberts with “You’re Lookin’ Like Love to Me (Bob Crewe/Bob Gaudio/Jerry Corbetta.) Concluding the evening was Douglas center stage with two moving classics: Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” and Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Nat “King” Cole Birdland, NYC
by Ron Forman April 29, 2019
Natalie Cole had a number one-selling CD, paying tribute to her dad Nat Cole. Now, another Natalie, Natalie Douglas, has paid loving tribute to Mr. Cole as part of her Tribute series at Birdland. Cole once remarked that he sang a song like he was telling a story, and Douglas’ phrasing, enunciation, and body language do the same thing for each number. In this show she used a voice different from her usual sound, lowering her range to better capture the essence of Cole. Her off-the-cuff remarks were always amusing, and her well-chosen anecdotes about Cole were interesting, sometimes funny and, on occasion, touching. Music director Mark Hartman was superb on piano and when he joined Douglas for a vocal duet.
Douglas’ haunting voice was perfect for her opening number, “Nature Boy.” She told the story about how the “hippie” (before there was the word hippie) songwriter Eden Ahbez managed to get the song to Cole, by somehow smuggling it into Cole’s dressing room after one of his performances. She swung softly on “Sweet Lorraine.” Most of the songs in the show were sung in the manner that Cole performed them, but Douglas did “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” her way, singing it almost in a whisper. Her rendition of “Mona Lisa” was slower than Cole’s, but equally beautiful. She spoke about Cole joining with Johnny Mercer to record “Harmony,” and the then she sang the Cole part with Hartman joining her as Mercer, both singing hilariously off key à la Jonathan and Darlene Edwards (Paul Weston and Jo Stafford). Two of Cole’s more obscure recordings were fun to hear: “Meet Me at No Special Place” and the very funny “(I’ll See You in) C-U-B-A.” She performed the seldom-heard answer song to “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s.” The highlight of the evening was her performance of Cole’s posthumous hit, “L-O-V-E” in six languages—English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese.
Naturally, she closed movingly with “Unforgettable.” The encore was a swinging up-tempo “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.”
Review: Natalie Douglas Shares Her Love for Cher in Her Latest TRIBUTES at Birdland
by Troy Frisby Aug. 13, 2018
It's safe to say that Natalie Douglas is a little obsessed with Cher.
Throughout TRIBUTES: CHER, the latest in her award-winning TRIBUTES series, Douglas made her way through the icon's life from her early career up to the present, both in song and in story. But the real focus of the July 16 show at Birdland wasn't necessarily in identifying with the woman, the myth, the legend that is Cher. (After all, how can anyone fully relate to someone for whom a phrase as simple as "Hi again" is a meme-able moment?)
Really, the show was about kneeling at the altar of Cher and bearing witness to everything she's accomplished. "And if someone says Cher's voice is not good? That person is stupid," she joked. "She is singing her ass off. That's why it looks the way it does at 72."
Douglas opened the proceedings with a fun, slightly daring choice in "Welcome to Burlesque" (Charlie Midnight/Matthew Gerrard/Steve Lindsey/John Patrick Shanley) from BURLESQUE, going for a less sultry and more straightforwardly inviting vibe than the source material. In fact, inviting is the perfect word to describe Douglas's demeanor all night long. If her incredible vocals weren't enough to put you at ease, her loose, joyous energy was more than enough to do the trick.
Take her thrilling cover of "Dark Lady" (Johnny Durrill), before which she warned that audience participation during the chorus required two claps, not three. With that order of business out of the way, she dove in fully, belting her way through the bewitching '70s hit. Afterward, she gushed, "I had no idea that was so much fun to sing, you guys." But the audience knew because you could feel how much fun she was having, long before she said it explicitly.
Between numbers, she recalled tidbits---often juicy ones---from Cher lobbing insults at Sonny during the leaner years of the late '60s to hating the demo for "If I Could Turn Back Time" because it was sung by the songwriter---and longtime Cher collaborator---Diane Warren. "She's one of your friends," Douglas grimaced to hilarious effect.
She always had time to find a light moment, even leading into her haunting rendition of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" (Sonny Bono). Paired with an almost militaristic drum beat, it was the perfect marriage of Cher and Nancy Sinatra's interpretations while never falling into mimicry. "Now Sonny wrote this song," she said with a tilt of her head, joking about the song's mystifying tempo change before she began. "And, suddenly, the tarantella!" With the number, she had two false starts, though she could've restarted 100 times and it would've been worth it for that tempo change alone, which sparked big laughs from the crowd and a lot of good-natured head-shaking from Douglas after the sprint was over.
If knowing her Cher-story weren't enough, she'd also traveled to Vegas to see the singer's act, for research, she said. A not-insignificant amount of the act was simply Douglas conjuring up her recollections of that night, like the star's decision coming out looking like the Virgin Mary in a gondola for "After All" (Dean Pitchford/Tom Snow). "It makes no sense whatsoever and it's the best thing I've ever seen," she raved.
And, even though, as Douglas noted, Cher and Peter Cetera never sang it live together, she was not without a duet partner for her rendition, bringing Garth Kravitz (currently on Broadway in GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER) onstage for the soaring ballad.
Douglas shook things up as well, with the help of music director Brian Nash on piano and keyboards, along with Alec Berlin on guitar, Endea Owens on electric and acoustic bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums. Nash's arrangement on "I Found Someone" (Michael Bolton/Mark Mangold) culminated with Douglas transitioning into "If I Could Turn Back Time," and even though she barely dipped a toe into the latter, the result was so explosive, it'd be impossible to accuse her of giving the song short shrift.
After weaving sunny asides in between ballads and belters and hits to form a kind of friendship bracelet for the audience, this marked yet another perfect instance of Douglas celebrating the beauty of what fandom can be at its best. It was a sacred space where people who recognize the genius of a charming, insanely talented chanteuse could come together joyfully and leave everything else at the door. And, no, I'm not just talking about Cher.
Natalie Douglas—A Delicious Ella Fitzgerald Tribute at Birdland
May 25, 2018 By Michael Barbieri****
At the start of her Ella Fitzgerald tribute, Natalie Douglas told us Ella had delicious taste in music. And Natalie sang that music deliciously!
Natalie Douglas is a two-time Backstage Bistro Award winner, a ten-time MAC Award winner, as well as the recipient of a Nightlife Award, the Donald F. Smith and Margaret Whiting Awards from the Mabel Mercer Foundation; plus, her portrait hangs on the Birdland Jazz Club Wall of Fame! She’s performed across the U.S. and around the world, doing tributes to legends like Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton, among other shows. But this night, it was all about the First Lady of Song, Miss Ella Fitzgerald.
From the moment she took the stage, Natalie had an air of exuberance and happiness about her, and her bouncy rendition of Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” made that joy contagious. In her polka-dotted black tulle party dress, she looked too darn hot herself—beautiful, confident, and ready to entertain us. After the opener, she gave us a little background on Fitzgerald, starting with the fact that Ella was known to go a bit off track, occasionally, during her live shows. She told us that Ella would say “…tonight you’ll hear some old ones, some new ones—and some we don’t know.” Continuing, Natalie said “So in that tradition….” indicating that she herself might miss a lyric here, or stray from a melody line there. Of course, that anything-can-happen feel is part of the fun of live music, and we were happy to go along with Natalie, no matter where.
We learned how Ella got her start when she auditioned for the Apollo Theater’s amateur night, originally intending to dance, but after watching two amazing dancers ahead of her, she decided to sing instead. Natalie pointed out that if Ella hadn’t changed paths that night we would’ve missed out on all this glorious music. With her next number, “How Long Has This Been Going On,” Natalie began with a sly ad-lib verse that transitioned into a romantic, subtly sexy refrain. Pianist Billy Stritch accentuated the sultry mood with a light-fingered, jazzy instrumental break.
We also heard a toe-tapping “Cow Cow Boogie” and an arrangement of “Love For Sale” that was dark at first, but then brightened; Natalie’s body language sold the song beautifully, as she ran her hands lightly up and down her body while singing “who’s prepared to pay the price, for a trip to paradise?”
One of the most dramatic moments of the evening came with “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” by Ella’s favorite composer, Duke Ellington. In it, Natalie’s acting came to the fore, with a heart-tugging strain of melancholy in her voice and a face that spoke volumes as she sang the Paul Francis Webster lyric, “Lord above me, make him love me the way he should.” The longing on her face and in her eyes just made her gorgeous vocal even more poignant.
After a smooth, swinging “Learnin’ The Blues” that demonstrated Natalie’s lovely control of a melody, we launched into what might’ve been called the “some we don’t know” section of the night. In “I Found A New Baby,” Ella was known to go off the tracks a bit, riffing, scatting and improvising. This was Natalie’s version of that Fitzgerald style—loose and lively, which prompted her to remark on the fun and terror of making live music; but for her, she said, music makes her feel like home. She then gave us one of Ella’s signature songs, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which called for a bit of audience participation. While the “call and response” section with the audience didn’t quite work, as we never really knew when to come in, and Natalie flubbed a few lyrics along the way, it was all great fun and nothing bad happened; the sky didn’t fall and we all adored it! That’s jazz!
After a wistful “But Not For Me,” with sensitive piano work from Billy Stritch, he joined Natalie for a duet of “Can’t We Be Friends,” by Kay Swift and Paul James. In it, the bright, jazzy timbre of Billy’s voice matched Natalie’s perfectly and their interaction was as spirited as the arrangement.
Toward the end of the set, we learned that Ella loved to record all styles of music and that in the 1960s she tried her hand at rock and roll. While “Imagine My Frustration” was hardly what most of us think of as rock music today, it had an irresistible, rocking, bluesy feel, and I once again found myself tapping my feet and bobbing my head along with them. We also heard a hot bass solo from Mimi Jones, which just added extra jump to the song. (Editors note: “Imagine My Frustration” was written in 1965 as a doo-wop mimicry for Ella, by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Gerald Wilson.)
After introducing Stritch, Mimi Jones, and drummer Shirazette Tinin, all of whom had created a big band feel, but with jazz club dynamics that never overpowered, we heard one more rock song famously recorded by Ella—Lennon and McCartney’s “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Natalie had fun with the swinging arrangement and at times, with the lyrics, and closed the show on a happy high note!
I have to admit, sheepishly, that this was my first time at Birdland, but it won’t be my last. I found the club to be terrific—good food, tiered tables with plenty of room (even with a sold-out house), a neon accented bar, and a good sized stage with excellent sound and lighting. I also admit that it’s been too long since I’ve seen one of Natalie’s full shows, but knowing that this talented lady has other tribute shows in store, including one for Cher, I know I’ll be seeing her again soon!
Natalie Douglas - Tributes: Ella Fitzgerald - Birdland Jazz Club
by Brian Scott Lipton May 16, 2018
Have you ever wondered (and I had) what would happen if the First Lady of Birdland paid homage to the First Lady of Song? That question was answered with resounding applause on Monday night as the room’s resident diva, Natalie Douglas, chose the late, great Ella Fitzgerald as the latest subject in her “Tributes” series of concerts. The result, as might be expected, was an evening of musical bliss, made even more wondrous at how deftly Douglas tackled some very tricky arrangements (with the invaluable aid of the great pianist Billy Stritch, bassist Mimi Jones and drummer Shirazette Tinin).
In some ways, it’s no surprise that Douglas (who has played Birdland consistently for the past 15 years) took so long to take on this particular show. As she pointed out in her opening patter: “Ella did everything incredibly well, and twice on Sundays.” But Douglas, one of cabaret’s most versatile vocalists, proved to be up to the daunting task, moving from ballads to uptempo numbers with surprising ease.
Moreover, as she also pointed out, Ella recorded thousands of songs in her career and “had the most delicious taste,” a combination that gave Douglas the ability to choose from the crème da la crème of the American songbook. That meant we got the pleasure of listening to some of the finest tunes from Cole Porter, the Gershwins and Rodgers & Hart: Douglas gave swing and sass to “Too Darn Hot,” poignancy and passion to “Love for Sale,” sweetness and sultriness to “How Long Has This Being Going On,” and purity and pathos to both “But Not For Me” and “It Never Entered My Mind,” doing full justice to each of these gems of the past.
Even better was how brilliantly Douglas handled the songs of Fitzgerald’s favorite composer, the amazing Duke Ellington. Even the Statue of Liberty’s torch dimmed in comparison to the one Douglas brought to “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), while she breathed full life into his intense, pop-flavored “Imagine My Frustration” (a song I fell in love with in the minute I heard it on Broadway over 35 years ago during the original production of “Sophisticated Ladies”).
Having the Fitzgerald canon also allowed Douglas to show off her lighter, more playful side in such delightful “novelty” songs as “Cow Cow Boogie” and “I Found a New Baby,” the Beatles’ immortal “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and, especially, Ella’s signature tune “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (one of the handful of numbers where she forgot a word or two). Intriguingly, perhaps the most joyous moment of the evening came when she and Stritch duetted on the charming ditty, “Can’t We Be Friends” (which Fitzgerald recorded with Louis Armstrong).
Fittingly, Douglas closed the show with another Ellington tune – one she said was Fitzgerald’s favorite — the gorgeous “Something to Live For.” As for me, I’m living for the hope she’ll do this spectacular show again.
MUSICAL THEATRE Review
Natalie Douglas – The Essential Nina Simone – The Pheasantry
by Admin on Saturday, 3 February, 2018
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
They don’t come any better than Natalie Douglas, a giant of New York cabaret whose infectious girly giggle, wonderfully warm presence and voice to die for make even a chilly February evening feel sunny.
This was the big-voiced songbird’s fourth delve into the songs made famous by Nina Simone and the second she has brought to London. She gave us 16 of them in almost two flawless hours that were a joy to listen to.
Only two, ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and ‘Four Women’, were actually written by civil rights campaigner Simone, who changed her name from Eunice Waymon after seeing the Oscar-winning French actress Simone Signoret in a 1952 movie.
It was her way of keeping her disapproving Methodist mother in the dark about her new career playing “the devil’s music”.
Simone was a difficult, angry woman who was not averse to shooting people or walking out on her audience if they didn’t show enough respect or dared to talk when she was performing.
I found that out at Ronnie Scott’s one long-ago evening when she sang two or three songs, told us how great her legs were, then closed the piano lid, picked up the bottle she had on top of the piano and disappeared.
A classically-trained pianist who knew her worth and made sure everybody else knew it too, she fought tooth and nail for talented people of colour to be recognised and properly paid. Her distinctive, throaty voice can be heard on more than 40 CDs, so there was bags of material for Douglas to choose from.
She put her own spin on Simone’s chart hits ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ and ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ and there were real tears as she poured herself into the incredibly moving ‘Why? (The King of Love is Dead)’, written by her bass player Gene Taylor and sung in public by Simone within days of Martin Luther King’s assassination.
Almost equally moving was ‘Mr Bojangles’, written by country singer Jerry Jeff Walker while he was in New Orleans jail for being drunk and met a homeless white man who called himself by that name to conceal his identity from the police. A gorgeous song gorgeously sung.
‘The House of the Rising Sun’ in the Douglas treatment of it sounded nothing like the chart-topping UK hit by The Animals from my schooldays but this song, set in a bordello, and ‘Work Song’, about a chain gang, were two she picked up off Simone records in her pre-teen years without understanding what they were about until her parents explained.
Her musical director and accompanist Mark Hartman, one of most gifted pianists to visit The Pheasantry, was in thrilling form on ‘Work Song’ and over and over again during the evening. He was a massive part of the evening’s success.
‘Work Song’ was co-written by Oscar Brown Jr whose compositions ‘Forbidden Fruit’ and ‘Brown Baby’ were also perfect Simone fodder as they all embraced the racial prejudices and mistreatment of black people she wanted to highlight through song.
‘Ain’t Got No/I Got Life’ was lifted from Hair, ‘Summertime’ and ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ of course were the work of the Gershwin brothers and Irving Berlin got in on the act with ‘You Can Have Him’, from the 1949 musical Miss Liberty, and given a beautiful, slow, soulful spin by Douglas.
We even had a bit of rock‘n‘roll with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put a Spell on You’ to raise the tempo in a two-hour show that had something for everyone.
The unscripted between-songs chat could have done with a bit of pruning and delivered in less of a rush, but Douglas is so loveable and huggy you can forgive the lady anything.
She certainly knows how to work an audience.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Dame Shirley Bassey Birdland, NYC
by Candace Leeds October 30, 2017
Natalie Douglas has been described as “a force of nature”—and added to that description should be “major talent.” Her Tributes: Dame Shirley Bassey, the final of four concert salutes (Sammy Davis, Jr., Linda Ronstadt, and Nina Simone) at Birdland, was a tour de force.
She presented Bassey’s greatest hits with her own powerful sound and touching intensity, bringing the Dame’s illustrious career to life with her well-researched patter. Douglas discovered Bassey as a child when she would watch her on TV.
She reveled in Bassey’s talent, calling her “a goddess,” “funny,” “smart,” and “kittenish” with “a voice that pins you against the wall.” All those descriptive terms also describe Douglas, who has a voice that can soar and the ability to embrace a multitude of musical styles with soul and heart.
Beginning with a booming “Big Spender,” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields), she wowed us with her big, bold sound, her endearing personality, and her considerable interpretive skills. Every song was a winner—from “Something” (George Harrison), to “I Want to Know What Love Is” (Mick Jones) to “Diamonds Are Forever” (John Barry/Don Black) to Bassey’s hit, and the title of her album, “Never, Never, Never” (Tony Renis/Alberto Testa/Norman Newell). Douglas’ renditions of “I (Who Have Nothing)” (Carlo Donida/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller/Giulio “Mogol Rapetti), “If You Go Away” (Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen), and “I Am What I Am” (Jerry Herman) were stocked with powerful emotion which touched the heart. Of course, her finale was the standard hit title song from the James Bond movie Goldfinger, which Douglas delivered with Bassey’s intensity and verve. Throughout the show, the songs brought the cheering audience to its feet, and she was ushered off the stage with yet another rousing standing ovation.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Ronstadt Birdland, NYC
by Bart Greenberg August 29, 2017
There’s a moment before Natalie Douglas begins a song when she smiles. Not one of her warm smiles that encompasses the audience.
Nor one of her giggly smiles when something —a comment from an audience member or confusion on which of her gifted musicians is playing which instrument at the moment —strikes her funny. No, this small smile expresses her pure joy at sharing the music she loves.
In the second of four tribute evenings Douglas is performing at Birdland, the chosen artist was Linda Ronstadt —at first a seemingly unlikely pairing—but she quickly revealed how influential the singer was on her life and her music.
The diva revealed that she wanted to grow up to be a hippie, and she considers Ronstadt the “über-hippie,” as well as the “coolest girl in the world.” She admires her talent, her unconventional lifestyle, and the “cute guys” she bedded. She also demonstrated the wide variety of musical styles Ronstadt worked in.
The sparkling vocalist offered up country songs she loved as a child—“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” (Dick Reynolds/Jack Rhodes); Latin rhythms— “Quiéreme Mucho” (Gonzalo Roig/Agustin Rodriguez); and standards—a peerless “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn). And, as with any Douglas show, there was a generous helping of torch songs—“Blue Bayou” (Roy Orbison/Joe Melson), which showed off the singer’s attractive lower register; and “Try Me Again” (Ronstadt/Andrew Gold), which she described being about “a relationship that would work out if only everything was different.”
Joining her on stage on a wide variety of instruments (and some singing harmonies) were musical director Mark Hartman, Joe Choroszewski, Lily Masse, Brian Nash, Endea Owens, and Shanna Sharp. Each added magic to the evening.
Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Sammy Birdland, NYC
by Elizabeth Ahlfors July 17, 2017
There never has been a greater entertaining talent than Sammy Davis, Jr. An exaggeration? Not if you had ever seen this energy-packed singer, dancer, impressionist, instrumentalist, actor live, on TV, or heard his recordings.
A 5’5” dynamo who learned his craft from the ground up, joining his uncle in the Will Mastin Trio, Davis stretched his diverse performing skills in every direction and, with shoot-the-moon energy and interpretations, gave you your money’s worth.
As his tombstone reads, “Entertainer. He did it all.”
Kudos to Natalie Douglas who began her monthly Tributes series at Birdland with a well-crafted and heartfelt salute to the entertainer who rode a roller-coaster of a career, with a broad musical catalogue and he was always impressive, always one of the greats. Douglas recognized, respected and communicated her respect with information about Davis and a solid selection of what he did. She brought out the essence of the man behind the music, and talked about the racial barriers he had to overcome. (No, Douglas did not do interpretations, dance, or play the drums and trumpet.)
A charismatic mix of chatty joy and authority, Douglas renders her own musical passion, strong and dexterous with powerful vocal control. Selecting songs from Davis’ career-making jazz standards Decca recordings of the ’50s through The Rat Pack era, Broadway, and beyond, she sang the songs that he loved, and one, “Candy Man” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) that he never wanted to record. Ironically, it became his biggest hit. With musical director Mark Hartman’s creative arrangement, Douglas delivered a more appealing rendition.
Opening with a signature song, “The Birth of the Blues” (Ray Henderson/Buddy DeSylva/Lew Brown), Douglas began an easy swing, loosening into commanding exuberance with the stress, phrasing and indelible Davis musical twists. Continuing with “Born to Be Blue” (Mel Torme/Robert Wells), Douglas’ flexible, rich alto eased down into a smoky lower cocktail-room register. She knocked “Gonna Build a Mountain” (Bricusse/Newley) and “Sing, You Sinners” (W. Frank Harling/Sam Coslow) out of the park, belting with gospel fortitude. She gave a sentimental standard, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” a nuanced sensuality, and wrapped her warm voice around “Hey There,” Davis’ first hit, in 1954.
Davis’ first Broadway appearance in Mr. Wonderful yielded “Too Close for Comfort” (Jerry Bock/George David Weiss/Larry Holofcener). It was a show designed to show off his talents and the second act, a nightclub act, did exactly that. Later, Golden Boy gave him the quirky “Stick Around” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams).
The highpoint was a heart-breaking segment beginning with “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker), a song Douglas absorbed and often delivered over the years, yet it has never reached the profound intensity it does here. Davis himself took years to agree to record it, but it became one of his major hits. She went on to Bricusse and Newley’s “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” bringing a personal and layered emotion to this song often thought of as a “power ballad.” The pinnacle was Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Ol’ Man River,” Douglas giving it masterpiece status as an anthem defying racism.
Natalie Douglas’ first superb Tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr., the man and the entertainer, was supported by a consummate rhythmic sextet: musical director/accompanist Mark Hartman, Jerome Jennings on drums, Endea Owens played bass, Danny Hall on trombone, Stantawn Kendrick on reeds, and Tim Wendt played trumpet.
Natalie continues her Tributes series August 28 – Linda Ronstadt, September 25 – Nina Simone, October 30 – Shirley Bassey.