Hinton Battle stopped into New York’s hottest nightspot for one night and there at 54 Below delivered classic, jazz and blues. Billed for a singular engagement to pay homage to jazz legends the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and others the three-time Tony winner sampled a track from his stint along the Great White Way to sing “Sophisticated Ladies.”
Although he limited his repertoire by performing a varied set of classic jazz selections, he also delivered “Caravan,” “On Broadway,” “Night In Tunisia,” “Ellie my Love” and “Welcome to the Club” and with those selections included a sampling of blues and scat.
Fresh from a three-month stint in Japan where he performed in Osaka and Tokyo, the acclaimed singer, dancer, choreographer, producer and director knows no boundaries.
Needless to say Battle was delightful. From the very start of the set, his stamina, energy and personality set the tone for a stimulating and enticing session that was filled with surprises and unexpected treats. Joined on this cabaret outing by his traveling companions – Lee Pearson on drums, Terry Brewer on piano, Samir Moulay, on guitar and Romeir Mendez on bass they provided a full complement to accompany his incomparable performance.
Scatting and gyrating to an infectious beat, Battle’s first treat introduced Chloe Arnold, a tap dancer Gregory Hines would have approved. More in step with the stylings of latter day tap dance kid Savion Glover, Arnold showcased skill and talent by parodying the sounds of Battle and musical accompaniment by musical director Pearson.
A big surprise introduced three-time Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater who was urged onstage to join him in singing the standards they seem to enjoy.
The accomplished jazz singer pleaded against a performance saying she was out to hear Battle sing but yielded when an enthusiastic crowd demanded the collaboration.
Before agreeing to the duet Bridgewater shared a story of the union she enjoyed while she was in Japan. After many years, it seems they found themselves in Asia and together re-bonded at an international jazz festival.
Hinton and Bridgewater sang “Bye Bye Backbird.”
The unrehearsed, impromptu duet treated patrons to a rendition from two acclaimed Tony award winning song stylists. Together the three-time Tony award winner and his special unexpected guest reprised a classic patrons seemed to indulge with appreciation and nostalgia.
On that evening Battle also launched his three-CD compilation “Something New” which features a sampling of blues, Broadway and jazz.
“I’ve listened to Hinton first three songs — “All Blues”, “On Broadway”, and “Sophisticated Lady,” Dee Dee Bridgewater said.
“I really like the arrangements and…. I love it.”
During the 90-minute set, he took time out to talk about his early retreat from his home-base of Washington D.C. when he was just a boy. The brief reflection credited choreographers Geoffrey Holder, George Faison and others who encouraged him to finish his academic studies before pursuing dance. But dance was in his blood. He said he walked “like a ballerina” and for a time auditioned to a single ballet command. And although Holder encouraged him to add more “sparkle” to the scarecrow he portrayed on Broadway when he debuted at age 15 in “The Wiz,” he has added his own panache and left an indelible imprint on audiences who saw him later in the “Tap Dance Kid.”
Battle has also executed his inimitable dance style in Bob Fosse’s “Dancin.”
Patrons cheered his performances in “Dreamgirls” “Sophisticated Ladies” “Ragtime” “Miss Saigon” when he appeared as Billy Flynn in “Chicago.”
To that effort he has collected three of the theater’s highest honors with three Tony Awards and enumerable honors from the industry.
Battle is boundless and already due for a repeat date for another above average performance at the step-down adjunct to Studio 54, 54 Below.