In a departure from his contemporary pop themed shows, Eric Michael Gillett has chosen the sumptuous passion of the music of Harold Arlen. Admittedly, Gillett has been attracted to the melancholy, dark quality of Arlen’s work, but is finding the humor as well. It’s a magical fit and one wonders what took him so long? Gillett is a master of lyric, with an actor’s ability to open his soul and reach an audience. His rich, powerful baritone creates humor and pathos on an array of Arlen songs.
Gillett relates a story about a piano bar singer at the Jersey Shore, a bouncer coming over and saying “the boss wants to hear "Come Rain or Come Shine,” and the bouncer continues, “I suggest you sing both of them.” Gillett’s bluesy “Come Rain or Come Shine” sets the tone for the thrilling Arlen songs that followed - an easy, smooth “That Old Black Magic,” a quiet articulate ballad version “If I Only Had A Heart” and a grand “Over the Rainbow,” that made some cry.
Most of Gillett’s stories come from memories and real life experiences. He was only a wee lad when he first heard “Blues in the Night” sung by none other than Bugs Bunny, especially liking the "ah whooee, ah whooee parts. "His rendition is a powerhouse of feelings. “Little Biscuit,” sung by Ricardo Montalban and Lena Horne in Jamaica, took on new meaning, as Gillett recited the woman’s part and sung the male part, each lyric a delicate pearl drop.
Tales about Arlen were only small peeks into the window of one of the great American Songbook masters of musical richness. Arlen was a natty dresser and at a party while dancing with Marilyn Monroe, he said “I think people are staring at us.” She countered with “perhaps they recognize you.” How about a favorite Arlen line: “to commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant.”
Credit for the exciting vocal arrangements goes to Don Rebic on piano. Matt Wigton played bass. Eric Michael Gillett performs at Feinstein’s through July 10th. For anyone serious about performing, this is a not to be missed master class!