Last Saturday evening, the incomparable Natalie Cole presented an outstanding concert at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx that exemplified talent of the highest caliber and a unique stage presence flavored with unparalleled elegance and class. Crossing all genres of American popular music, the eight-time Grammy-winning superstar thrilled her stylishly attired devotees, who reveled in their icon’s mixed bag of music that included jazz, R&B/urban contemporary and blues, as well as popular tunes.
Opening with Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” Cole shone brilliantly, delivering a non-stop 90-minute show. Backed by her extraordinary, tight five-piece band, under the direction of the brilliant Gail Deadrick (keyboards), with Chanz Parkman (keyboards), James Manning (bass), Robert Miller (drums), as well as the multi-talented guitarist who switched between electric and acoustic guitars (whose name, unfortunately, I did not get; my apologies). Rounding out the group were her two dynamic back-up singers, Traci Brown and Marcelina Hawthorne, who are a perfect vocal fit for Cole.
Moving into the musical realm of “some of the greatest ladies of songs,” Cole delivered an exquisite rendition of Dinah Washington’s signature tour de force “What a Difference a Day Makes” and then transformed into a sultry siren on “Fire,” a song which Peggy Lee recorded with the great Ray Charles. Cole’s solid interpretations of these numbers were mesmerizing.
Like a seasoned chameleon, Cole effortlessly shared two numbers from her CD, “Ask a Woman Who Knows” (Verve, 2002), starting with the ever-popular crowd-pleaser, the delightfully whimsical, “Better than Anything” which she performed on the album with Diana Krall.
This was followed by another favorite, the intimate Michael Franks number, “Tell Me About It,” which was simply beautiful. Changing gears again, this time, Cole shared “Fiesta in Blue,” the music of the innovative Count Basie, which she introduced as “sophisticated and elegant.” Setting up the number, the engaging chanteuse joked: “The only request for you to enjoy this is for you to be depressed.” Swinging into the wicked number, all the negative spirits with the blues departed the concert venue, leaving a jubilant audience tapping their feet and snapping their fingers to Cole’s sweet rendition.
Other highlights of the evening included Cole’s No.-1 hits “Mr. Melody” and “This Will Be,” a hot, updated version of “Daydreaming,” Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Letter,” Neil Young’s “Old Man” and the gutsy Koko Taylor/Peggy Lee fierce, blues number, “I’m a Woman.”
However, the crowning centerpiece of the evening was when the image of the entertainer’s late father, the legendary Nat King Cole, appeared on a screen on the stage, and daughter and dad sang a duet of the beautiful classic, “Unforgettable.” First recorded in 1952 by Nat King Cole, Natalie, with the use of technology, later recorded the hit song as a duet with her father on her 1991, album “Unforgettable: With Love,” which instantly became a No.-1 hit.
As Cole stood stage right looking up at her father on screen, everyone seated in the Lehman Center of the Performing Arts became a part of an enchanting moment in time: that of sharing the experience of seeing an icon from this era seemingly on stage with an icon from a completely different era, and then listening to the orchestra and acoustic piano from another time carry the song. Hearing this recording so tastefully done–no over-singing or unnecessary riffs–and when Nat and Natalie are singing together the tones match perfectly. Even their vibratos are so clear that they become one, of the same school, where talent and elegance and class merge in perfect sync. This moment in time at the Lehman Performing Arts Center with Nat and Natalie Cole: priceless.