“I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” is a 1932 pop standard by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. It was also the title of Wednesday night’s concert in Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series—a night of music and commentary produced by the impresario Hal Willner and celebrating A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Lehman’s Nextbook Press book on the Jewish composers and lyricists who created much of the songbook.
Rufus Wainwright opened the show, in the Allen Room at Lincon Center, with its wall of windows overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, with a soulful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” He was backed by a 14-piece band, playing sultry nightclub arrangements of a dozen pop standards behind not just Wainwright but also Shannon McNally, Jenni Muldaur, Van Dyke Parks, and Christine Olmann, who brought the house down belting a loungey arrangement of Arlen and Koehler’s “Stormy Weather” in a flowing pink ’60s dress and a towering bouffant of blonde hair.
But even bigger names played, too. Sting proved himself a master of the songbook, delivering plaintive, moving renditions of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay” and, later, “”Someone to Watch Over Me.” And none other than Lou Reed showed up to close the show with a hard-rocking, guitar-and-drums-heavy take on Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby (and One More For the Road).”
All photos by Dese’Rae Stage:
Wainwright with David Lehman, author of the Nextbook Press book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs.
Photos from “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues?” Music and readings from A Fine Romance, at The Allen Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York City.
Jesse Oxfeld, a former executive editor and publisher of Tablet Magazine, is a freelance theater critic. He was The New York Observer’s theater critic from 2009 to 2014.