Recalling the Empress of Radio Jazz Stacy Sullivan Sings in Memory of Marian McPartland
By STEPHEN HOLDENSEPT. 30, 2014
At her most compelling, the pop-jazz singer Stacy Sullivan has a voice so sultry that her sound might be described as heavy-lidded. Applied to a song like “Stranger in a Dream,” a haunting little-known ballad composed by the jazz pianist Marian McPartland with lyrics by Irving Caesar, she transports you to a twilight zone of wistful reflection that recalls the dreamier side of Peggy Lee.
Not long ago, Ms. Sullivan recorded an entire album in memory of Lee. At Friday’s opening-night performance of her show, “On the Air: Songs for Marian McPartland,” at the York Theater, another spellbinding moment was her rendition of a McPartland composition, “In the Days of Our Love,” with lyrics by Lee. It was matched in seductive power by her versions of “Loving You,” from the Sondheim musical “Passion,” and of Norah Jones’s “Come Away With Me.”
“On the Air,” which includes more than two dozen songs, is an admiring, thoroughly researched musical biography of McPartland, who died last year at 95. Ms. Sullivan was joined by Jon Weber, the immensely gifted jazz pianist who succeeded McPartland as the full-time host of the long-running NPR series “Piano Jazz,” and on bass by Tom Hubbard. Mr. Hubbard’s outstanding solo was the melody of McPartland’s vintage radio theme song, “There’ll Be Other Times.”
Darkly sultry is not the only shade on Ms. Sullivan’s vocal palette. Because Willie Nelson had been a guest on “Piano Jazz,” Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Weber ventured tentatively into a tough barroom style for Mr. Nelson’s “Night Life,” and there were several uncertain detours into a lighter jazz style.
Her most dramatic interpretation was her complicated version of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” sung in memory of Ray Charles, another guest on “Piano Jazz.” In halting phrases, Ms. Sullivan transformed this whoop of euphoria into the reflection of a depressed person trying and failing to catch the joyful spirit of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics. It was noir all the way.