A boffo birthday bash with Billy Stritch and friends at NYC’s Birdland

Multiple award recipient and Grammy-nominated pianist, singer, and songwriter Billy Stritch – known for his 25-year collaboration with Liza Minnelli as accompanist and opening act, his recent tour with Tony Bennett as pianist and musical director, and his seasoned presence on the jazz and cabaret scenes in NYC and throughout the US – is welcoming friends and fans to his home-away-from-home at Birdland Theater for a five-show concert engagement of Billy Stritch’s Big Birdland Birthday Bash! Celebrating his big 6-0 on February 12, the run also marks the release of his two recent albums – Billy’s Place, the first piano-and-vocals album he’s done, named for his award-winning livestream series honoring the Great American Songbook with songs and stories from his acclaimed career; and The Sunday Set, captured live at Birdland with Jim Caruso, which contains a selection of standards, jazz favorites, and comedy numbers.

Billy Stritch, Tom Hubbard, and Eric Halvorson. Photo by Deb Miller.

For opening night, Stritch, reaffirming his signature mastery on piano, vocals, and repartee, was joined by special musical guests Caruso and Max von Essen (upcoming performances will feature guest appearances by Marilyn Maye, Sally Mayes, Klea Blackhurst, and more), all accompanied by Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. And what a party it was! The evening shone a spotlight on the artist’s unsurpassed skill in delivering the smooth stylings, sophistication, and natural ease with an audience that are the hallmarks of his expert showmanship and the best of New York nightclubs.

The well-chosen set list contained a mix of classics, along with some lesser-known songs from the jazz canon and the Great American Songbook of Broadway and Hollywood, by such legendary writers as Alan Jay Lerner, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and Stephen Sondheim. His expressive renditions captured the romance, hope, joy, and heartache of the eloquent lyrics and distinctive rhythms of popular hits like “That Old Devil Moon,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “Mountain Greenery” (one of his own favorites, which included some cool scatting), and medleys of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “I’ve Got the World on a String/I Got Rhythm,” in addition to infrequently performed works like “Let Me Down Easy,” written by Coleman and Carolyn Leigh for The Heartbreak Kid.  Each and every one displayed Stritch’s bravura on the keys and virtuosity on the vocals that made us feel the music.

Stritch interspersed the numbers with personal notes on his background and turning “s-s-s-s-sixty,” his career and connections with the stars, and informative comments about the artists and the songs, relating comfortably to the audience and his fellow performers with his innate charm. And he enthusiastically introduced the band and guest singers with stories of their longtime friendships and collaborations, while presenting their featured solos – all of them displaying an abundance of talent befitting the stellar show.

Billy Stritch, Tom Hubbard, Eric Halvorson, and Jim Caruso. Photo by Deb Miller.

The guest segment opened with the ever-endearing Caruso bringing his trademark humor to the stage, joking with Stritch (his BFF of 40 years and eighteen-year resident pianist for his weekly open-mic Cast Party at Birdland) and entertaining us with their obvious camaraderie and his funny and tuneful versions of “What Did You Do to Your Face?” and “The Doodlin’ Song.” Then the Tony Award-nominated von Essen (An American in Paris), who’s known Stritch some 25 years, since graduating college (even though, as Billy noted, he doesn’t look old enough!), hit the long notes and the perfect harmonies with Stritch in his powerful performances of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and “She Loves Me.”

Billy Stritch, Tom Hubbard, Eric Halvorson, and Max von Essen. Photo by Deb Miller.

If you weren’t there on February 10, and missed this fabulous show, you still have the chance to catch Billy Stritch, the band, a different roster of guest vocalists, and some of the best music you’ll hear. Happy birthday, Billy, and thank you for this wonderful present!

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.

Billy Stritch’s Big Birdland Birthday Bash! plays through Saturday, February 12, at 7 and 9:30 pm, at Birdland Theater, 315 West 44th Street, downstairs, NYC. The cover charge is $30 for table seating, $20 for bar seating, plus an additional $20 food or beverage minimum per person. For reservations, call (212) 581-3080 or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a valid photo ID to enter.


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