By MARILYN LESTER•••• It’s been almost ten weeks since Maestro Barry Levitt passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, sending shock waves through the music community he touched in so many ways. And yet, The Maestro seems to be among us still. His spirit is felt so palpably by many that’s it’s hard to believe he’s no longer here in the flesh. That feeling was evident in the launch of The Barry Levitt Foundation with Swingin’ for The Maestro: A Barry Levitt Foundation Cabaret at the Iridium, a club with which Levitt had long and deep ties. Host Scott Barbarino, Iridium manager-booker, producer and cabaret community leader, kept the show moving from Brenda Levitt’s opening remarks through 17 performances by singers who worked with and loved The Maestro.
This group of prime-time entertainers, all volunteering their talent for the cause, came from all the worlds touched by Levitt – cabaret, jazz and musical theater. Each took time in perfect proportion to recollect his or her experience with The Maestro. Theater divas included Gabrielle Lee with “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Stormy Weather” from N’Kenge, who started in the opera world, like Janice Hall, equally at home in that genre or in popular music, who delivered apoignant “Smile.” No slouch when it comes to over-the-top rockin’ and swingin’, Michele Mais proved without doubt “I’ve Got the Music in Me.”
Crooners were present in John De Marco, who sang a creative pairing of “A Foggy Day (in London Town)” with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” while the smooth-as-silk baritone of Sal Viviano handled “My Funny Valentine” with ease. Cabaret denizens Helena Grenot (“All in Good Time”), Karen Saunders (“The Best Is Yet to Come”) and Terese Genecco (“Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”) all performed with excellence. Dawn Derow, whose My Ship: Songs from 1941 was the show Levitt was working on when he passed, delivered a sexy version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Cabaret A-lister Natalie Douglas revealed her jazz head side with a get-down, swinging “Sing, You Sinners.” Jeff Harnar literally bounded to the stage, music in hand, after sprinting overfrom his gig at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. He astounded doubly, first by reading (from his cell phone) one of the last emails Levitt had sent regarding My Ship… It was magic. The missive was pure Barry Levitt and brought The Maestro all that much closer to those present. Harnar’s second rabbit out of a hat was a sparkling, rousing “Too Marvelous for Words” with the complete complement of Johnny Mercer lyrics.
The jazz sector was represented by stalwart Cynthia Scott (“Here’s to Life”), while the scatting and jiving Cleve Douglass went “Straight, No Chaser.” And one of the most exciting jazz divas of the current generation, Kat Gang, contemporized and swung “Cheek to Cheek” with remarkable phrasing and expert scat. As if this bounty of performance were not enough, the cherry on the sundae was Marilyn Maye who wrote a beautifully tailored lyric in homage to Levitt, sung to “I Love a Piano” and “And the Angels Sing.” Backing up the performers were music director/ pianist, Russ Kassoff, bassist Boots Maleson, drummer Brian Brake and sax player Bob Magnuson. These cats played in the pocket, swinging in style for The Maestro.
Also present were Iridium owner Ellen Hart, who donated the club for the benefit, Zee Oliveira, Programs Director for The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, and Arin Conoblat, General Manager of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. The latter two each said a few words about the respective organization’s partnership with The Barry Levitt Foundation, whose mission is to provide education to under-served populations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Foundation provides instruction, instruments, performance support and scholarships to students. It is the Foundation’s belief that no aspiring instrumentalist or vocalist should be discouraged due to economic circumstances.
All photos: Maryann Lopinto
Photo key, top to bottom: Dawn Derow, Gabrielle Lee, Kat Gang; Jeff Harnar; Natalie Douglas; Cleve Douglass; Sal Viviano; Cynthia Scott; Marilyn maye; Brenda Levitt; John DeMarco; N’Kenge