Photo: Gene Reed
Inspired by the likes of Mel Tormé and Sammy Davis Jr., Nicolas King is a dynamic, energetic, and altogether fabulous singer who invites one to sit back, sling back a Gin and Tonic or two, and travel back in time to the 1960s, a cooler, smoother era of music and performance style.
Swinging through standards such as “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “Old Devil Moon,” “New York State of Mind,” “She Loves Me,” etc…, in his recent show at Birdland’s intimate new downstairs theater, King was backed by the terrific combo of Alan Bernstein on bass, Ray Marchica on drums, and the sensational Mike Renzi on piano. It was Renzi, as King told it, who introduced the young performer to the music and singers that would inform his approach to music and performing, and it was not only heartening to hear a performer his age acknowledge and revere those who came before him, but also exciting to hear how he not only learned from the masters, but was inspired by them to create his own unique vocal style. His scatting is sensational; “It’s a shame I don’t have anything more peppy to sing for you tonight,” he quipped after a particularly exhilarating “Pick Yourself Up,” in which his precision and high spirits carried the audience to near fever pitch. He may not have the velvety smooth tones of Tormé, but his own voice is so distinctively and instinctively right it doesn’t matter.
His patter was minimal, mostly of the “isn’t he/she/great/it great?” variety, while his non-stop energy could, at times, become exhausting to watch. But when he did slow down and savor moments, as he did on particularly lovely renditions of “Our Love Is Here To Stay” and “What Kind Of Fool Am I?,” he was riveting, and hist tribute to Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwi’ole’s now iconic version of “Over The Rainbow” while accompanying himself on the ukulele was heartbreakingly beautiful.
Midway through his set, he was joined by two of his friends, the husband and wife duo Spencer and Sequoia. Their laid-back energy brought a marked difference in tone to the evening, and we were suddenly jolted from cool 60s jazz into 21stcentury acoustic. While it wasn’t exactly a perfect fit with what had come before (and came after), their chemistry was undeniable; the three of them performing “Valerie” and “My Girl” offered many pleasures of its own, showcasing not only the charming Spencer and Sequoia, but also King’s versatility.
According to Birdland’s schedule, King will be back for a few dates in November, singing as part of New York City Songbook; hopefully he’ll be back with his solo show in the near future as well. For those of you who know him, it will no doubt be a welcome return. For those of you who don’t, well… you should.