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T. Oliver Reid - Drop Me Off in Harlem

T. Oliver Reid

T. Oliver Reid
Drop Me Off in Harlem
315 West 44th Street
Pianist: Lawrence Yurman.  Damien Bassman on percussion, Ray Kilday on bass, Trevor Neumann on trumpet  Members of Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars After Midnight band.
February 8, 2016
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Top hat and tuxedo, man-about-town GQ elegance, that's T. Oliver Reid as he salutes the Harlem Renaissance of 1934, escorting a downtown gang out for some uptown barhopping.  The talented Reid heads for legendary hot spots like the posh Cotton Club, the low-down Sugar Cane, Small's Paradise, Connie's Inn, a gay haunt called the Clam House, and ending up at the Radium Club somewhere around seven AM, in time for breakfast.  Offered are tasty anecdotes, savory tunes and Reid's triple-threat talents as he sketches an impressive picture of  "What Harlem Is To Me."

Reid combs the historical songbook for selections that spotlight his Harlem at the time.  Although Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" was written later in the '30s', it is a perfect early number to set a good-time party mood.  Inside the clubs, songs like "Minnie the Moocher" was a favorite by Cab Calloway and Reid nimbly brings out the sing-along hi-di-ho.   With the smooth, "Sposin'," he gives a nod to Harlan Lattimore, a band singer at Connie's Inn and called "the colored Bing Crosby."  At the Clam House, Reid is brassy as all get out with a spicy, shaken-not-stirred Ruth Brown favorite, "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' on It." 

Reid has a tenor voice with a gritty edge that can soar up to falsetto skies or dip down, sexy and sultry.  He draws on effective acting talent, eliciting the song's emotion and vulnerability, proven in an outstanding rendition of "Sophisticated Lady" that shows careful phrasing with immaculately placed stress.  

In a poignant segment reflecting on hard times and racial brutality, Reid glosses his lips and puts on white gloves for an uncomfortable musing on "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue." With desperation, one line asks, ""I'm white inside, it don't help my case/'Cause I can't hide what's on my face." 

Another medley begins with "Ill Wind," goes on to face reality in "It's Only a Paper Moon" mixed with a jubilant "I've Got the World on a String," all three written by white composer, Harold Arlen.  Like Ted Koehler and Johnny Mercer, Arlen's songs were staples in Harlem clubs, along with African-American musicians like Duke Ellington, Andy Rasaf and Fats Waller.  

Reid is also a formidable dancer, notably rubber-legged with the chicken dance ("Doin' the Crazy Walk") and all over the place with the Bessie Smith favorite, "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer."  He rarely stands still, except to benefit the song as in the penetrating delivery of  "In a Sentimental Mood."  He is accompanied by sizable band led by music director/pianist Lawrence Yurman with Damien Bassman on percussion, Ray Kilday on bass, Trevor Neumann on trumpet and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-stars/After Midnight band.  In this show, special guest Carly Hughes (Encores!'s Cabin in the Sky) visited with her full-throated rendition of "Stormy Weather."

Stage presence, multiple talents and showmanship of T. Oliver Reid, these are tailor-made for a theater production.