Everything Old Is New Again: Max von Essen at Birdland Jazz Club – August 19, 2019

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Nostalgia is a powerful thing – it seems just about every movie or television franchise is being revived or revamped for the newer generation who may not have experienced the hype (good or bad) surrounding its original run or even seen them (though these days it’s streamed online). Same goes for songs, many of which are re-recorded by different artists, who may (or may not) provide their own spin on the songs. On the other hand, there are those singers who remain true to the song’s original intent and lend their voices to reviving that sound from yesteryear to the modern era. Max von Essen is in the latter category, bringing back elegance and style with his first solo album “Call Me Old Fashioned: The Broadway Standard”.

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I’ve been acquainted with Max von Essen for several years, having first encountered him in Dance of the Vampires (which should have been a greater success, but that’s a discussion / digression for another post), and have seen him in Les Miserables, and Evita. A gifted musical theater actor, he has a natural charm about him and an affinity for the Standards (songs from the early to mid-20th Century), which has resulted in this first solo album (the first of many, one can hope). While the album was released earlier this year in April, it was only this week he was able to celebrate its release (having been on the US national tour in Falsettos for most of the Spring/Summer); the event was held at Birdland Jazz Club on August 19, 2019.

The evening consisted of Max singing songs from the album, accompanied by Billy Stritch, who also features on several tracks, coupled with anecdotes of how he discovered these songs and its influence on his life and career. Among my favorite songs (well, they’re all my favorites, obviously) is the gentle and romantic interpretation of “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” from Evita, a contrast to the soaring, borderline melodramatic aria as it (usually) exists within the musical. Another highlight of the evening was a rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” (not on the album, but hopefully on the next one…?) prefaced with his history with Les Miserables; he told the tale of his opportunity to cover the role of Marius (twice!) towards the end of the show’s original run and the first revival of the show a few years later, and never getting to play the role (though he was a fantastic Enjolras in the latter production).

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Needless to say, the event (and the album) was a joy to experience, and it’s probably safe to say that Max is among the next generation to keep the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Lerner and Lowe (to name but a few) alive and introduce them to generations to come.

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