Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Warm vibes on a cold day

Looking northeast towards Ground Zero from overpass on West Street. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cold in New York.

The wonderful Judy Collins opened to a packed house last night for her fifth annual appearance at the Café Carlyle. I think I’ve seen her every time she's appeared there, and I have been a fan since she first came on the scene in the 1960s. The voice is still as strong and as delicately sweet and effecting as it always was. The long brunette hair is now snowy white, piled abundantly and elegantly atop her beautiful head, Edith Wharton-style.

There are so many songs that we associate with her, including many tunes written and/or made famous by others -- such as The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill -- but then again by Judy Collins who made them her own. She had huge a hit with Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns” which probably provoked the national popularity as well as the Grammy that Mr. Sondheim received for it after she recorded it.
The Cafe Carlyle with its famous Vertes murals, last night before the opening performance of Judy Collins.
She opened the set last night with Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” It was Collins’ version, according to Hillary Clinton, which inspired the name they gave their daughter, and which Collins performed at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural ball.

To hear her for the first time, or any time, is to be enveloped by that extraordinary generation of rock and folk rock composers and recording artists who reflected the powerful and turbulent (and raucous) days of the 1960s and 1970s.

No matter who wrote or performed it first, everything Collins sings has her special imprimatur and style. Last night she performed a beautiful version of a rarely played Beatles song “Norwegian Wood,” as well as Joan Baez’s autobiographical “Diamonds and Rust,” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
The serenity in her voice and manner is catching. For those of us who were around when she began her career and followed her thereafter, her work has become a harmony of personal Proustian moments. The audience last night, obviously responding to this, settled in for a cozy evening of those moments.

Power, turbulence, rock-n-roll and folk music aside, Judy Collins casts a spell with her grace, her voice and the gentle, yet off-handed wit of her patter between numbers. We are also reminded of her musical authority – she was a budding concert pianist making her debut at age 13 (performing Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos) when she disappointed her classical teacher with her developing interest in folk music. Her biographies and memoir recount an addiction to alcohol, a bout with bulimia, with tuberculosis, all of which she triumphed over.
Her social activism remains steadfast. Like many of her generation, she is by nature forthright and open about herself. These qualities lend themselves to her performance to this day. Despite the fame and fortune of stardom, she has never lost her connection to her roots. Last night, for example, in the audience was a woman who has been a friend all her life since they were very young girls growing up in Colorado. Her warmth was everywhere and a comforting antidote to the temperatures outside the door.

She’s at the Café Carlyle (with Russell Walden, Musical Director) Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:45 until March 12th. 212.744.1600.
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