An inspired tribute to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra at NJPAC (REVIEW, SETLIST, PHOTO GALLERY)

Frank sinatra peggy lee tribute


Brian Stokes Mitchell, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Aloe Blacc at the “Celebrating Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra” concert at NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 8.

“There’s somebody here that I have loved (from) afar, for a long time,” Brian Stokes Mitchell told the audience at the “Celebrating Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra” concert that took place NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 8. “I just love the way she sings. … I have wished, dreamed, hoped that we would get an opportunity to share a stage together sometime. And tonight is that time.”

That woman is Dee Dee Bridgewater, and after she joined him on stage, they sang a duet version of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which Sinatra and Lee had sung together, Mitchell mentioned, on television’s “The Frank Sinatra Show,” in 1957.

This was one of many memorable moments at this consistently inspired and almost flawless show, which featured the 16-piece Christian McBride Big Band, joined, on some songs, by a six-piece string section. (McBride occasionally left his conductor’s position to play bass, though Noriko Ueda was on hand to fill that role for most of the show). Six singers — Bettye LaVette, Paula Cole, Rachael Price (of the band Lake Street Dive) and Aloe Blacc, in addition to Mitchell and Bridgewater — performed, with Mitchell, Bridgewater and Blacc singing Sinatra songs in the first half of the show, and LaVette, Cole, Price and Bridgewater honoring Lee in the second half. (see setlist below)

All the performers seemed to be thrilled to be on stage, revisiting this material, and the feeling was infectious.


Paula Cole at NJPAC.

In addition to the Bridgewater-Mitchell duet, Cole and Price performed the half-spoken, quirkily melodramatic “Is That All There Is?” together. And the show’s third duet, of sorts, took place when Bridgewater sang “Angel Eyes” with just McBride’s incredibly responsive bass playing — meaning, he was able to make every note sound like it was in response to what Bridgewater was doing — as her accompaniment.

The big band opened the show on their own, playing Count Basie’s arrangement of “Night Train,” in honor of the frequent collaborations between Sinatra and Basie. They create a big, propulsive sound on this number and, later, on songs such as Mitchell’s “Luck Be a Lady,” Blacc’s “Fly Me to the Moon” and Price’s “It’s a Good Day,” but not every musician in the big band played on every number.

Mitchell’s “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” was done, for instance, with just a small jazz combo featuring McBride on bass, Rodney Jones on guitar, McClenty Hunter Jr. on drums and Michael King on piano. Jones, Cole mentioned later in the evening, played with Lee herself prior to her death in 2002.

LaVette was at her best underscoring the sense of hurt and yearning in “The Man I Love.” She also performed “He’s a Tramp,” sung by Lee in the animated film, “Lady and the Tramp.” (“That might be the only tune I’ve ever performed that I saw a puppy sing onscreen, as a little girl,” LaVette said, with a big laugh. “But I’ve always wanted to do it.”) Joining her at the front of the stage, trumpeters Brandon Lee and Freddie Hendrix were given some generous solo time on “Black Coffee” and “Love Me or Leave Me,” respectively.


Rachael Price at NJPAC.

Cole got the honor of singing Lee’s trademark hit, the seductive “Fever,” and delivered “Why Don’t You Do Right?” in a similar manner. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from her previous recordings, but she seemed to have a deep affinity for this show’s classic-pop music, as did the show’s two youngest performers, Blacc, 45, and Price, 38. Blacc said he was “very influenced” by Sinatra. Lee was “one of my biggest inspirations,” Price said, between the perky “It’s a Good Day” and the moody “Blue Prelude.”

“Before I ever sang rock music, I only sang Peggy Lee,” Price added. “So I’m really, really honored to be here.”

There were lots of interesting little details in this show. Blacc said that his “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” featured a Quincy Jones arrangement that had been performed but not recorded. McBride mentioned that Sinatra is credited as the orchestra conductor on Lee’s 1957 album, The Man I Love; Price, that “Let’s Love” was written specifically for Lee by Paul McCartney.

The evening ended with the four female singers performing the Lee hit “I’m a Woman” together, after an introduction by Lee’s granddaughter Holly Foster Wells in which she noted that this “anthem of feminine empowerment” was written by two men, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. (As was the concert’s previous song, “Is That All There Is?”)

Lee “wanted to sing about empowerment, and to use her voice not only to entertain, but to inspire,” Wells said.


Bettye LaVette at NJPAC.

Here is the show’s setlist, including the singers of each song:

“Night Train” (instrumental)
“Come Fly With Me,” Aloe Blacc
“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” Aloe Blacc
“All of Me,” Dee Dee Bridgewater
“Angel Eyes,” Dee Dee Bridgewater
“Luck Be a Lady,” Brian Stokes Mitchell
“One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” Brian Stokes Mitchell
“You Make Me Feel So Young,” Aloe Blacc
“Fly Me to the Moon,” Aloe Blacc
“The Shadow of Your Smile,” Dee Dee Bridgewater
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Brian Stokes Mitchell
“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Dee Dee Bridgewater and Brian Stokes Mitchell


“I Don’t Know Enough About You,” Dee Dee Bridgewater
“Why Don’t You Do Right?,” Paula Cole
“(When I Dance With You) I Get Ideas,” Paula Cole
“Black Coffee,” Bettye LaVette
“Love Me or Leave Me,” Bettye LaVette
“It’s a Good Day,” Rachael Price
“Blue Prelude,” Rachael Price
“Let’s Love,” Rachael Price
“He’s a Tramp,” Bettye LaVette
“The Man I Love,” Bettye LaVette
“Fever,” Paula Cole
“Is That All There Is?,” Paula Cole and Rachael Price
“I’m a Woman,” Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bettye LaVette, Paula Cole and Rachael Price

Here is a gallery of photos from the show:


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