“CAFE SOCETY SWING” is the name of a revue-type show wrapped around a bio at 59E59 in Manhattan.  It stars, in reverse alphabetical order,  Charenee Wade, Allan Harris and Cyrille Aimée, vocals –Harris doubles on guitar– in front of a talent-laden jazz octet.  It’s center is one BARNEY JOSEPHSON and his clubs CAFE SOCIETY.  (That is not a typo; there were two, uptown and down.)  And there, dear readers, ends any similarity to this review and that which appeared in the New York Times.  In short, the Times got it wrong!

Here’s a synopsis.  Barney Josephson, a very left wing-er, opens a club in New York City to satisfy his penchants for combining his love of jazz and for integrating both audiences and performers.  (The Cotton Club’s performers had to enter through the kitchen and were forbidden to mingle.)

Among those performers there was the already very popular and beautiful Lena Horne, the folk/blues singers Harry Belafonte and Josh White, Sister Rosette Tharpe, before she was threatened with excommunication and retired from the stage, Ida Cox, Nellie Lutcher, and most significantly Billie Holiday.  The title of Josephson’s memoir and the sobriquet for the club was “The Right Place For The Wrong People.”

Ah, yes.  Those people in the audience.  Most, if not all, ended up on the House Un-American Activities Committee’s (HUAC) list and were eventually blacklisted.  Further, there were spies among them who were there just to “take names,” as the expression went.   And I imagine goon squads awaiting their departure.

The scene is set for a right wing journalist (played by Evan Pappas) sitting at an edge-of-stage desk with typewriter ready to defame everyone and anyone who entered or played the room.  And danced with each other no matter what their skin tone.  Could this have been the Hearst reporter Westbrook Pegler?  He’s never identified.  But Hearst-like (now Murdoch, who loves jazz, by the way) nonetheless.  He later morphs into a barkeep st the club (!?).

Some musical highlights:  Lena’s, “Stormy Weather,” sung by Aimée; Lady’s “What A Little Moonlight,” by Wade; Tharpe’s gospel blues “Rock Me”; Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues,” Wade; “One Meat Ball,” and the Count Basie/Jimmy Rushing “I Left My Baby,” by Harris; Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” by Harris.  Strayhorn, who was black and gay, was welcome in the club as were his friends.

The band: The Times reviewer must have been sitting nearby because she mentioned some woman behind her saying ,” Oh look; a women in the band.”  I  heard her too.  Another of Josephson’s intergrational (sic) aspects.  Actually there were three females: Mimi Jones, bass; Lucianna Padmorre, drums; and Camille Thurman, tenor sax.  The last has been known to sing on occasion.

Contrary to the Times review the feature was definitely NOT Cyrille Aimée, the French chanteuse who chirped pleasantly and politely songs which were meant to annoy rather than please.  No, the features were Charenee Wade and Allan Harris who delivered their offerings fittingly more soulfully.  Charenee proved her mettle time and again especially in the concluding “Strange Fruit” sending this reviewer, at least, home with moist lids.  I’m sure Barney, whom I knew more that casually at his next venue, The Cookery, in the Village, would have loved her.

“Strange Fruit” has a story all its own.  I was talking with “Cafe Society Swing” pianist and creator Alex Webb after the show.  Did he know, I asked, where Lady went after she dismissed her label Columbia Records to record the lynch-laden song as was announced from the stage?  He didn’t.  I continued, she went to Commodore Records.  Yes, he remembered.  And do you know who owned that label.  No, was his reply.  I pressed my advantage.  As my voice became more strident he backed closer to the wall.  Jack Crystal and directed by his brother-in-law Milt Gabler.  Jack Crystal was Billy Crystal’s dad!  Milt his uncle.  Doesn’t that warrant a mention?  He pressed further against the wall.

Now here’s another factoid for ya.  The guy who wrote the poem, “Strange Fruit,” not only had to change his name, but had to move to protect his adopted children –the executed Rosenbergs orphans.  He was now sweating.  There’s a true Barney Josephson legacy.



As if to prove my point re: Charanee Wade, she appeared with an enthusiastically talented and diverse troupe led by pianist   Chris Pattishall: three vocalists Wade, Michael Mwenso and Briana Thomas; Tevon Pennicot, tenor sax; Godwin Lewis, alto; Sharif Clayton and Riley Mulikar, trumpets; Coleman Hugh, trombone, Chris Smith, bass; Joe Saylor amd Jamison Ross, drums.

Their repertoire included r & b versions of faves such as “Rudolph,” “Winter Wonderland,.” “Let It Snow,” and “Santa’s Comin’”  In addition there were beautiful solo works of less usual Holiday fare: “Thief In The Night,” “A Child Is Born,” as well as the more traditional “The Christmas Song,” gospel “Silent Night,” and “O Holy Night.”

Each member had his or her say.  The drummers –of which I’m not a fan but those two guys really tore it up– Pattishall’s roasting those nuts; Thomas’ gospel inspirations; and notably Wade doing Thad Jones’ “Child,” which is fast becoming a Holiday melody, lyrics by Alec Wilder.

This Pattishall-led band of expanded carol-leers has become a Holiday tradition at Dizzy’s and well it should remain.  Lotsa fun by talented people.

© arnold jay smith December 2014 – January 2015


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