Barbara Cook

It's Better with a Band

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Barbara Cook established her second career as a nightclub and concert singer with her 1975 Carnegie Hall debut and the album At Carnegie Hall that was culled from it by Columbia Records. She followed two years later with a Columbia studio set, As of Today. By 1980, she and the major label had parted ways, but her performing career was as successful as ever. So, she returned to Carnegie Hall on September 14, 1980, with a new show, this time recorded by the Moss Music Group for 1981's It's Better With a Band. As the title suggested, Cook had augmented her accompaniment for the occasion. Musical director/pianist Wally Harper was still on hand, of course, but so were 15 other musicians, including three horns, three reeds, a percussion section, a string quartet, and a harp. That was just enough instrumentation, and just varied enough, to give her the suggestion of a big band here or an orchestra there. And she and Harper used that variety in a varied selection of songs. Although Cook's background was in the musical theater, she did not feel bound to perform only show tunes. On the contrary, she reached back to the Tin Pan Alley of the 1920s and '30s for two standards co-written by Maceo Pinkard, "Them There Eyes" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," while also making her own a series of contemporary pop songs including Nilsson's "Remember," Melissa Manchester's "Come in From the Rain," and Laura Nyro's "I Never Meant to Hurt You." And, with Harper stepping in as composer, she introduced some specially written material that included in-jokes about her career for the benefit of her audience. Harper's novelty "The Ingenue," with lyrics by David Zippel, for instance, was a comic lament in the style of a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song about the travails of being an ingénue (as Cook had been), among its complaints, "Movie roles you live to play / They give to Shirley Jones to play" (as the producers of the film version of The Music Man did after Cook originated the co-starring part of Marian the librarian on-stage). Best of all was a medley of four Leonard Bernstein songs that somehow made its way from the reverent "Simple Song" to the racy "I Can Cook, Too," a journey that worked because Cook was capable of making it work and taking her listeners along.

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