Written by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Rose Room at the Plaza - Wednesdays, from 9:00PM
It's Beauty and the Beat at the Plaza Hotel's Rose Room. The Kat Gang Quartet has settled in with its jazz magic every Wednesday evening in the space that once housed the legendary Persian Room. That glamorous nightclub hosted some of the world's top performers, including Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee, Carol Channing, and the "Incomparable Hildegarde." It is a perfect fit for the engaging Kat Gang (Kat is short for Katherine).
For the Rose Room, Gang chooses the American songbook, linking her popular selections with conversational comments about the history of the Plaza Hotel and the era of the 1930's and '40's, a heyday for these standards.
While Gang takes the traditional Gershwin and Porter melodies on a serpentine jazz route, she never loses touch with the lyrics, and the traditional tunes take on a fresh shine. She gives Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" a staccato phrasing, letting the tune fade away with a repetitive "cheek to cheek to cheek to cheek…" She is right there, with keen insight, in every selection. Singing Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Manhattan," she glides into the line "Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by," Joe Young's guitar picking out a few identifying notes of John Kander and Fred Ebb's "New York, New York." Introducing Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's seductive 1942 classic, "That Old Black Magic," she reveals that Mercer's muse for the lyric was the star-crossed love-of-his-life, Judy Garland. Gang builds the rendition, climbing toward a sizzling denouement, "Aflame with such a burning desire…"
With a secure and trained four-octave range, Gang has an individual style that can be light and breezy one moment, but then she turns the tone down low to caress lush long lines. A good actress, her bright sound and lively scat fit neatly with the wit she finds in many tunes, but she turns romantic as naturally as any chanteuse. She openly revels in the tenderness of amour as she floats the words of "Embraceable You" (George and Ira Gershwin) above the sultry swaying of her rhythm band. Pablo Beltrán Ruiz and Norman Gimbel's "Sway" moves from romance into lust. Gang has all moods covered.
Kat Gang is not delivering hard-driving jazz although the interpretations are complex and embellished, jumping from vulnerability to the muscular swing of "All of Me" (Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons). Mentioning that her favorite version of that 1931 tune was by Sarah Vaughan, she takes off, sparkling with joy, rhythm and her own fluid scat.
It must be recognized that while this venue is not a smoky jazz club but an upscale landmark New York hotel, the Rose Room is a bar, albeit one of the more elegant ones. Bobby Short used to say, "I don't care how pretentious (a room) is, there are moments it reduces itself to being a saloon." Conversations here can get loud, just as they do in the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar several blocks uptown.
The Plaza Hotel is presenting Kat Gang in association with Donald Schaffer Management and Ward Morehouse III, author of "Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel." Gang takes care of the vocals with first-class support from Joe Young on guitar, Julian Smith on double bass, and Shawn Balthazor on drus. The chairs are comfortable, the atmosphere is plush, and the quartet begins its sets at 9pm. After the theatre or for just a cocktail, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.