Bryce Edwards will perform cabaret show at Chapel
How many 23-year-olds croon and purr, yelp and yodel, and profess to finding the mid-1920s through early 1930s the most interesting period in popular singing?
There’s at least one: Bryce Edwards, the Brooklyn-born (today’s his birthday, in fact) musician who will bring his latest show, The Bryce Edwards’ Frivolity Hour, to the Chapel Restoration in Cold Spring on Friday (May 19), the first time he has performed it outside of a nightclub. He will be accompanied by Conal Fowkes on piano and bass and Scott Ricketts on trumpet.
“I’ve always been obsessed with early jazz and singers from before World War II, dance bands and jazz bands,” says Edwards, who grew up in Montrose. “Since I was 12 or so, that’s been a big part of my personality, something I’m passionate about. So, when I started singing repertoire from that era, it came as no real surprise to those around me.”
Edwards knows he’s idiosyncratic, something he attributes to his upbringing. “My whole family is artistic,” he says. “My mother is an art director, and my father’s a photographer. There were many musicians and visual artists in my family. I was encouraged to love a lot of things. My creative impulses were nurtured.”
Edwards’ first foray onto the stage came through children’s musical theater, particularly productions at the Philipstown Depot Theatre on Garrison’s Landing, where he performed through his high school years. “A creative environment was fostered there and it had a strong influence on my process,” he recalls.
Hoping to continue professionally, Edwards auditioned for college musical theater programs. But he was becoming disillusioned with the process. “When you put together your audition book, you’re told there are points to hit and I found myself singing songs others told me to sing, songs I was not excited about,” he says. “Nowadays it’s so much about favoring flashy vocal gymnastics over using the music to tell a moving story.”
After graduating from Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, Edwards performed a banter-filled, two-man show with jazz pianist Quintin Harris that got him recognized in the cabaret scene in New York City. The act featured material from the 1940s to 1960s; think Rat Pack, Nat King Cole and others from “the classic mid-century showbiz aesthetic,” Edwards says.
Edwards decided to check out Cast Party, an open mic hosted by Jim Caruso on Mondays at Birdland in Manhattan. It proved to be a game-changer. He began with musical theater classics “and it wasn’t clicking. I thought, ‘Hey, wait a sec, I can sing whatever I want.’ Even though you get people performing in every genre, the crowd has a deep love for material from the Great American Songbook.”
The musician has a strong connection to that music, courtesy of his grandfather, whom he describes as a “musical encyclopedia, including many obscure songs you just don’t hear. That helped me shift to cabaret, where I could choose the genre.”
“I had a feeling in my head that I couldn’t do this seriously, until I started going to Cast Party and particularly after I met Natalie Douglas, a fantastic cabaret performer,” Edwards says. “She mentored me and gave me a scholarship to this American Song Workshop she does. That turned out to be foundational; it made me think, ‘I can do this.’ ”
His act focuses on jazz and popular music before the 1940s. “What’s so wonderful about this music is that these standards cut to the chase — the songwriters mastered linking a poetic lyric to a melody line,” Edwards says. His singing, he says, is “rooted in recapturing period vocalists. There are many young artists recreating this era with steadfast historical accuracy. You can hear bands plucked from the Jazz Age, but the vocalists tend to take their cues from singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, who are from later eras. They’re wonderful and I love them, too, but this music predates them.”
After a couple of months pounding the pavement, trying to book his nascent act, Edwards approached the owners of the club Don’t Tell Mama. He says he “promoted the show like crazy” and it sold out. He was furthered along by a rave review in Broadway World, which noted that “everyone smiled, ear to ear,” for the duration of the show.
Chapel Restoration is located at 45 Market St. in Cold Spring; parking is available at the adjacent Metro-North lot. Tickets are $28 at bit.ly/bryce-edwards-chapel. Edwards will perform the show again on Sept. 24 at the Depot Theatre.