In his three decades as the house attraction at New York’s posh Cafe Carlyle, Bobby Short has come to define cabaret. His reputation rests upon his skills as an “entertainer,” a word both he and his admirers use to say, “He sells a song like nobody’s business, so it doesn’t matter that he’s not the world’s best pianist and doesn’t have the greatest voice.” But this modest interpretation sells Short a little short: in truth he’s become an empathetic and aggressive accompanist, having provided his own backup for most of a lengthy career. And even though his 74 years have started to catch up with him–these days his voice frays a bit, from its trademark bluff hoarseness into a strained rasp, when he pulls out all the stops–he can still draw on that enormous experience to invest the great songs of the 30s and 40s with the old-fashioned, insouciant charm they’ve all but lost. Beneath his impeccable sophisticate’s demeanor lie great reserves of strength: he’s had to overcome both racism and the discrimination that could have prevented a gay dandy from proffering songs of romantic love to a straight audience. Short has achieved such an iconic stature that I’d recommend seeing him in almost any setting, and the group he’ll lead in Chicago–a scaled-down version of the band on his 1998 disc, Celebrating 30 Years at the Cafe Carlyle (Telarc)–could draw its own crowd. From the album he’ll bring longtime bassist Frank Tate, crystalline trumpeter John Eckert, unflappable tenor soloist Loren Schoenberg, and lively Finnish-born drummer Klaus Suonsaari, who brings a modernist’s conception to the older material. Four excellent Chicagoans, led by baritone saxist Ron Kolber, round out the six-man horn section. The arrangements recall the small swing bands that broke off from the Ellington, Basie, and Goodman orchestras of the 30s; the vivid backdrop they provide allows Short to turn what might’ve been a set of museum pieces into a Sensurround re-creation of the pop song’s golden age. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Yvette Wintergarden, 311 S. Wacker; 312-408-1242. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.