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When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street

You're an arrow collar.We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but BIX comes closest. The trio playing midnight to one was piano, double bass, and percussion. One had the distinct impression these men were keeping a weak flame lit. (We thought that the bassist was the man who played Egon in Ghostbusters; probably they were each professors at Berkeley or Stanford, with an academical interest in the music.) They were a solid troupe. But like so much of San Francisco besides the fish, their efforts made one hungry for New York.

New York is where Bobby Short held sway at the Hotel Carlyle for almost four decades till his death in 2005. Short is shrined in the foyer of the Cafe Carlyle, still the warm heartchamber of the finest American metropolitan music. (Woody Allen and his trio now call it home on Mondays.) Readers of this page who are my coevals will think this enterprise and my taste old-fashioned, but they are not; to go into some of Manhattan’s better venues is to see the American Songbook read anew, read contemporaneously; this material is not played as a throw-back; they aren’t in any wise period pieces. The standards live vigorously. Bobby Short, who came of age in 1930s Chicago, got to play them when they were new and when they were old. And with him they never sounded old.

Here is Bobby Short at the Cafe Carlyle in 1995, doing the Cole Porter song “When Love Beckoned,” from the 1939 show Du Barry Was a Lady which is synopsized thus:

Louis Blore, attendant in the men’s washroom of the Club Petite in New York, wins $75,000 in the Irish sweeps. Having long had his eye on the star of the floor show, May Daly, Louis seeks to win her away from Alex Barton, the young man to whom she is engaged. He tries to put Alex away with knock-out drops, but mixes up the glasses and drinks the potion himself. During his delirium Louis dreams that he is Louis XIV and that May Daly is Du Barry, his mistress. His unsuccessful pursuit of May continues through the gardens and boudoirs of 18th century Versailles. When he awakens, Louis realizes that he has no chance with May and will have to settle for her friendship.

A cute song. In the show, May is given the song. Here, it’s Bobby Short’s hickory-smoked baritone. Enjoy, friends.

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