There are times when you walk out of a performance and feel a special thankfulness that you were there to experience it. Such was the case following Jeff Harnar’s October 2nd show at Birdland celebrating the release of his new album, A Collective Cy: Jeff Harnar Sings Cy Coleman (P.S. Classics: 2023) Supported by Mark Phaneuf on alto sax and flute, Musical Director Alex Rybeck on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, and Ray Marchica on drums, Harnar performed 12 of the 14 tracks from the album and several selections that were added for this show.
He arrived on the stage with a robust but brief take on “Big Spender,” and followed it with two more tunes in a nicely matched medley, “Hey, Look Me Over” and “Hey There, Good Times.” These were all tunes not on the album. The other add-ons were “Everybody Today Is Turning On,” a humorous ditty from I Love My Wife,”; a medley of “Sexually Free” from the same show; and “When in Rome.” Then there was “You’re Nothing Without Me,” a duet with his long-time musical partner, Rybeck, for which David Zippel wrote some special lyrics. It was encored later in the show as “We’re Nothing Without You,” with special lyrics expressing Harnar’s appreciation for the enthusiastic crowd gathered at Birdland. Also included was one of the few songs for which Coleman wrote the lyrics for his music, “Somebody.”
The rest of the show was devoted to selections from the album. Among the highlights were a whimsical performance of “A Doodlin’ Song (Doop-Doo-De-Oop),” with vocal support from Leonhart and Rybeck. Danny Bacher was called upon to recreate his part on “The Rhythm of Life,” with Rybeck adding the third voice that was sung by Nicolas King on the album. Bacher also played a nifty soprano sax interlude.
Harnar has a terrific sense of putting tunes into coherent medleys. His pairing of “My Personal Property” and “My City was well constructed as was his creation of a three-song medley of “The Rules of the Road,” “Come Summer”, and “I’m Way Ahead.”
Throughout the performance, Harnar was thoroughly engaging with his connective commentary. He mentioned that a turning point in his life occurred when he was seven years old and received a gift from his parents of the original cast album of Sweet Charity. It was the beginning of a life-long affection for the songs from musical theater. During this performance, he included four tunes from Sweet Charity: “Big Spender,” “The Rhythm of Life, “My Personal Property,” written for the film version, and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Harner had some interesting anecdotes about meeting Coleman. His patter was charming, witty, and informative, adding a special dimension to an appreciation of Coleman’s artistry.
Having first performed a Cy Coleman show in 2006, Harner had planned to record an album of the songs then, but was unable to raise the necessary finances at that time. He never gave up on this dream, and after 17 years, it has come true. That was fortunate for him, but also fortunate for the audience that could now enjoy the results. Hopefully, there will be many additional opportunities for him to make the complete show available to a wider audience. – JOE LANG
PHOTO BY STEVE FRIEDMAN