Carol Sloane

Jazz Singer


Quiet Elegance Marks New Palm Beach Cabaret Club

by Matt Schudel South Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 5, 2002

A new nightclub quietly opened in Palm Beach last week, instantly raising the sophistication level of South Florida. It's not a place for dancing, for loud music or for talking. Instead, it returns top-drawer entertainment to a cabaret setting in South Florida for the first time in a generation.

After an inaugural weekend by singer Gail Nelson and pianist Danny Holgate, the jazz vocalist Carol Sloane has taken up residence for two weeks at the Royal Room. In her opening performance Wednesday, she showed why she may be the most complete jazz singer working today.

Carmen McRae once said Sloane had "the perfect voice." She has a light rasp in her dark-toned mezzo-soprano, a precise sense of time, great intonation, a poet's understanding of lyrics and, perhaps most important, a real joy in the act of singing.

Joined by McRae's former pianist, Norman Simmons, and Don Wilner on bass, Sloane presented a warmly personal program that ranged from uptempo romps to deeply touching ballads, with an emphasis on rarities that undeservedly got lost in the Great American Songbook.

Sloane opened with Billy Strayhorn's little-heard "Maybe," then followed it with a lilting "I'll Buy You a Star," by Dorothy Fields and Arthur Schwartz. Next, Sloane eased into the romantic verse of an unnamed tune. Only when she reached the chorus did the familiar lines of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" come into view. But she didn't serve it up as an overcooked piece of nostalgia; she reworked it as a lean, gentle ballad of the utmost delicacy.

The tone throughout the 75-minute set was understated but never somber. The moods ranged from jaunty ("How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me?") to wryly comic ("Frasier, the Sensuous Lion") to reflective ("Midnight Sun"). Propelled by Wilner's bass, Sloane exuberantly followed the darting path of Ben Webster's famous tenor saxophone solo on Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail."

She brought a poignant charm to a pair of ballads that no one else performs, "An Older Man Is Like an Elegant Wine" and the touching "I See a Million People." Throughout the evening, Simmons interjected tasteful piano solos, and Wilner was a restrained rhythmic anchor on bass.

On both ballads and uptempo tunes, few singers can control a song as well as Sloane. She knows exactly where she's going, yet there's always a delightful sense of surprise when she arrives there. It's an artistry that sounds deceptively simple. When she turned to the familiar "On the Street Where You Live," Sloane reshaped it as a gentle swinger. Her fresh approach might explain why she broke the Algonquin's attendance record last summer.

If the Royal Room can keep providing music of this quality, South Florida may have found a gentle retreat of grown-up pleasure.