British-born chanteuse Mabel Mercer was–to cop a phrase from Cole Porter–“the essence of, the quintessence of” cabaret artistry in the New York nightclub scene of the 40s and 50s. Her elegant yet conversational style has influenced stars from Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday to Johnny Mathis and Bobby Short, and now Andrea Marcovicci, a specialist in vintage American song, pays tribute to her on the forthcoming collection Some Other Time (Cabaret Records). Not that Marcovicci, born half a century after Mercer, tries to imitate her unique blend of grandeur and austerity; on the standards Mercer made her own, Marcovicci’s singing is gentle, almost folkish, with delicate, slightly wobbly highs that recall the young Joni Mitchell before they descend into a steely, occasionally husky alto. But like Mercer, Marcovicci (a stage and screen actress as well as a singer) grounds her interpretations in textual subtleties, using melody and rhythm to support rather than dictate her witty, warm, impeccably enunciated, and understatedly emotive phrasing. On Some Other Time the results are sometimes amusing (the jauntily swinging rendition of Porter’s “Ace in the Hole”) and sometimes exquisite–listen to the aching way she stretches out the line “There’s so much more embracing to be done” in the title tune (from Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green’s On the Town) or the edge of bitter regret under the surface sentimentality of “Young and Foolish” (from Albert Hague and Arnold Horwitt’s Plain and Fancy). As she kicks off the 20th season of this concert’s presenter, Centre East, Marcovicci will preview the new CD (which also includes material by Kern and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Cahn and Van Heusen, Coleman and Leigh, and Mercer’s longtime accompanist Bart Howard), but no studio recording can do justice to her in-person appeal. While on disc she can seem chilly or affected, onstage she’s simply charming–at once ironically sophisticated and unabashedly romantic as she imparts an infectious delight to even (and perhaps especially) the saddest of songs. Friday, 8 PM, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-673-6300 or 312-902-1500. ALBERT WILLIAMS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.