Every Street's a Jazz Boulevard in Old New York

New York City embosses itself on its inhabitants--perhaps as most towns do, only more so. But it's the community artists who take what's been written on them by the famously fabulous environ and pass it around.
An especially impressive example of this phenomenon took place at the 92nd Street Y only a few days ago when, during the annual "Jazz in July" summer festival, artistic director Bill Charlap gathered a coterie of top-flight musicians to celebrate the City in a little something he called "A Helluva Town: New York Jazz." For the most part, it was Manhattan that was lionized, with one hearty shout-out to Queens, about which more later.
Not surprisingly, the participants took to the streets of New York. Wall Street, Broadway, Forty-Second Street, Fifty-Second Street, Central Park West were hailed, as if composers and lyricists--just about all of them New York City-based--have set out collectively to champion the Manhattan map. You could say they wanted to let it be known that, as the song declares, "Ev'ry Street's a Boulevard in Old New York." That Bob Hilliard-Jule Styne ditty wasn't included, however.
Getting specific: Charlap began the session by exploring tunes from Leonard Bernstein's On the Town. The lightning-fingered Charlap's modus operandi was to pile his own syncopation on Bernstein's in what became the musical equivalent of Piet Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie."
Having been raised in NYC among musicians (his dad was composer Moose Charlap), the younger Charlap then brought out his mom, singer Sandy Stewart with whom he has a significant cabaret collaboration. Stewart--whose avoidance of vocal tricks is an admirable tactic--nodded toward the related tunes "42nd Street" and "Lullaby of Broadway." By no means incidentally, she was abetted by Wess Anderson on alto sax, Byron Stripling on trumpet, Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Jay Leonhart on bass, Lewis Nash on drums and, eventually, by Ken Peplowski on clarinet.
Those suavely gritty instrumentalists immediately took on Thelonius Monk's "52nd Street Theme," which boasts sequences so intricate that the effect is of several cats (jazz-slang pun intended) skittering across a hot tin roof. Not in the least winded, Anderson segued into John Coltrane's "Central Part West," a cooled-down proposition not without a segment so challenging that Anderson's fleet tooting brought to mind an amazing display of broken-field running.
The fun of the Stripling-led--and Stripling-sung--"Drop Me Off in Harlem" was the joke played on the lyric about no need for Dixie visits when Harlem is at hand. The arrangement was out-and-out Dixieland. The joy of "Wall Street Rag" was that soloist Charlap, who can do anything on the keyboard, hewed strictly to the multi-mood Joplin in letter and spirit.
In the concert's second half, Barbara Carroll got off the streets, so to speak, which made sense since whenever she plays, she gives the impression of floating at least a few feet above the ground. Not only is her playing lighter than air, but her voice is as well. She began with 'How About You?" which starts, of course, with the cocky declaration, "I like New York in June." She also got a laugh by singing "And Derek Jeter's looks give me a thrill," which is not, needless to say, the standard's original lyric.
Long a mistress of swing and bebop, Carroll has classical music tamed and so preceded Leonard Bernstein's "Lonely Town" with George Gershwin's "Second Prelude in C Major." After noting it's often called "the New York Prelude," she played as if only raindrops fell on the keys. Carroll polished off her set--she's nothing if not polished to a high gloss--with David Frishberg's nostalgic "Do You Miss New York?"
Sandy Stewart returned to sing Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York" with bittersweet clarity, and the ensemble applied elbow grease to "I Got Rhythm" for the simple reason that George and Ira Gershwin were raised on the Lower East Side, rose to the Upper West Side and were therefore steeped in New York.
The evening's cherry-on-top was the unannounced arrival of Tony Bennett, who was born in Queens and remains one of the borough's most important ambassadors to the world. When Bennett put together the PBS special about the making of his Duets CD a few years back, he featured Charlap along with k. d. lang, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello and others and so obviously is happy in the jazz festival director's company.
Bennett's brash delivery untempered at 82, he's also clearly spotting Nirvana when surrounded by jazz musicians. Thus, his NYC medley wrapped in the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers "Manhattan" was jubilant. "We'll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too," as the lyric states, could have served as a mission statement for the entire program. The implication was that the five boroughs were all the gang needed to be inspired forever.