“It’s really a downer!” admitted cabaret singer Mark Christian Miller, half-smiling, in genial patter during his tight and artful set of jazz standards and high seventies pop at Hollywood’s Gardenia Restaurant & Lounge Saturday night.
“Is there anybody else here? It’s cold and I’m so lonely,” runs the plaintive lyric of Harry Nilsson’s “Life Line,” a jewel of a song, almost an art song. “Won’t someone please throw me down a lifeline?” Miller traversed the song’s dark passage with his voice.
Something profound happened when Miller’s beautiful phrasing of Nilsson’s lyric nearly vanquished its sadness. It all swelled wonderfully, adding to the sense of contained comfort in the el-shaped, candy-colored room, its air conditioning working overtime on a sticky summer night. The Gardenia’s longtime proprietor, Tom Rolla, provided this pink bubble as a safe haven, and Miller, debonair in jacket and red tie, proved a tasteful musical guide.
Miller’s program skated smartly through a curated list that included Charles Azanovour’s “Tomorrow is my Turn” and Joni Mitchell’s “Night Ride Home.”
The high point for this listener was Miller’s deep drilling into the Mel Torme lyric for “Harlem Nocturne,” a tune written by prolific television-music composer Earle Hagan. The noir-ish ballad suited Miller’s voice perfectly and he told its bluesy tale so well.
Dark shadows in the rain
a telephone that won’t ring
just memories remain
of lovers that used to be
Miller then generously shared his program with his swinging back-up trio. Kristen Korb plucked string bass while breezing (and scatting) through “Deed I Do.” Also showcased was the golden fluid keyboard of pianist Josh Nelson and the light touch of drummer Sammy Miller, who just by tom-tomming added a solid bottom as well as velocity to the mix.
The jazz bôite was filled with attentive friends and fans. Miller’s scrupulous manners, crediting the club owner, introducing a key client, congero Louie Cruz Beltran, and even giving a shout-out to a writer in the crowd, added to his appeal.The evening slid by way way too quickly and not just on libations; we await Miller’s next round of satisfying grown-up crooning.
Thank you, Chuck Keenum, for the photo!