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He plays, she sings: (l-r) Broderick and Clark.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Meeting of the Voices

A regular gig in Saratoga leads to an unexpected partnership for pianist Cole Broderick

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Call it a fluke or a stroke of luck, but it wasn’t until Cole Broderick heard Cheryl Clark warble a lullaby to her firstborn, Nico, that he realized she could sing.

Broderick is a composer and pianist who performs at Saratoga’s Chez Sophie on Tuesday and Friday nights and during Sunday brunch. His four-CD set of originals, Seasons in Saratoga, won a Billboard Magazine Critic’s Choice Award in the 1990s. He’s an affable, passionate artist who seems wedded to the keys—until you get him talking about music during a break, and then the passion comes through in words.

Clark runs the front of the house (among many other duties) at Chez Sophie, that top-of-the-line Saratoga tradition. She’s married to chef Paul Parker, after whose mother the restaurant was named. French-born and -trained Sophie helmed the place for more than 30 years, passing to her son a special brand of culinary artistry along the way.

A lot of hard work has given the restaurant its reputation as Saratoga’s best, but it’s also a product of good taste, from the elegant look of the place to the artwork on shelves and walls (by Paul’s father, Joseph Parker) to Broderick’s music.

Broderick’s latest CD is modestly titled Chez Sophie Jazz, and you have to hunt to find Clark’s name on the cover, but the recording combines the talents of Cheryl and Cole. It’s another distinguished achievement by Broderick, who mixes four originals with a dozen standards, but it’s a triumph for Clark, who marks her return to singing with this disc.

“I grew up in Arkansas in very poor surroundings,” she says. “I started singing when I was very young and became a soloist with the church choir, because that’s where you sang in rural Arkansas.”

She parlayed that into a summer studying music at the Arkansas Governor’s School, which offered, and continues to offer, a six-week program for talented high-school kids going into their senior year. “Along the way, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Thanks to the Scripps Howard Foundation, I was able to attend Rhodes College in Memphis. They didn’t offer a journalism degree, but I was able to create a major in a program of liberal studies they called ‘media arts.’

“So, along with music, I carried a double major.” Clark sang opera with college ensembles, appeared in plays with Theatre Memphis, and even understudied with Opera Memphis. Along the way, she also sang in nightclubs, which was a world apart from opera. “But I really didn’t want to spend my life auditioning, being judged again and again. Journalism appealed to me because I could be an invisible observer.”

She met Parker when she was 19, and soon went with him to New York City, where she took advantage of the location to get a Master’s degree from Columbia University. From there she pursued a succession of newspaper jobs. At the time Paul went to work with his mother at the restaurant, Cheryl was a business writer for the Schenectady Daily Gazette. Eventually, she joined her husband in the full-time job of running the restaurant. “And I became the world’s most frustrated karaoke queen,” she says.

“About seven years ago, Cole showed up at the restaurant—this was when we were still at the diner building in Malta—with an electric keyboard in the back of his car. We’d had a very limited success with music in the restaurant before that, not least because the acoustics in the front room weren’t very good. But he set up in our back room and played for us one night a week, and he was very lovely and charming and we were astonished that someone of his talent liked to play for us.”

In the new Chez Sophie location, at the downtown Saratoga Hotel, Broderick works at a blond baby grand, where his sound is gently miked throughout the dining areas. “He’s determined,” says Clark, “to make us the area’s best jazz venue.”

But for Clark herself, music remained something performed by others—until motherhood happened. “Nico was born, and I was in the hospital with him,” she explains. “I felt like I should sing something to him, but I couldn’t remember a single lullaby. All I knew were art songs and arias. Then I thought of the song ‘Hey There,’ and sang as much of it as I could think of and hummed the rest. When I got home, I learned the words. When Cole heard me, I had Nico in a sling and I was singing to him while I was vacuuming the restaurant.”

In his gently insistent way, Broderick encouraged Clark to sing while he put some accompaniment behind her. Soon enough, it was full-fledged jazz. “I grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney,” says Cheryl, “so I’ve always had that jazz sound in my head.”

When you hear Broderick play, you’re not surprised that his biggest influence was Oscar Peterson. And not just in terms of technical prowess: He weaves fascinating rhythmic and harmonic inventions behind a melody without becoming so abstruse as to be singer-unfriendly.

“In the 1990s,” he says, “I was working with a quartet, but it was a lot more work than I wanted to pursue, and I gave up that rat race.” He traded the lure of a national spotlight for the comfort of playing close to home, which also allows more time for composition.

He paid tribute to his hometown with his Seasons in Saratoga set, and is following it with a new project: a comprehensive survey of songs by the Beatles that he plans to begin recording soon.

Meanwhile, launched with little more than word of mouth, Chez Sophie Jazz picks up steam. Moon Radio (WABY) host Jerry Crouth has put the track “I Get Along Without You Very Well” into rotation, and local and Web sales continue to increase (check out chezsophie.com for more info).

“Like any musicians,” says Broderick, “we keep on practicing.”

“At his house,” adds Clark, “where there are no small children tearing the place to shreds.”


ROUGH MIX
Jeff Silbar

KEEP ON MOVING It is entirely possible that he may be doing this just to get press, but DJ-promoter-musician-(insert title here) Ralph Renna is again moving his Thursday-night Capital Underground Live concert series. After spending just a few weeks at Positively 4th Street in Troy, the music moves back to Albany tonight (Thursday, May 22) to begin its stay at Savannah’s. The show begins at 8 PM; check out www.ralphrennarocks.com for more information on the series.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE In other Savannah’s news, the downtown institution has a new owner and a new M.O.—and soon, it will have a new name as well. Sometime this summer, the ground-floor bar-restaurant at 1 South Pearl Street will become the Dublin Underground. While the name change sounds drastic, some other improvements that have already been made, including the installation of a brand-new sound system, are major in a good way. If you’re wondering why the title of this item is appropriate, the venue’s new owner is the former manager of now-closed downtown nightspot the Skyline, where Ralph Renna’s live-music series got its start. Isn’t that nice and cozy? For more on the New Dublin Savannah’s Underground Bar, call 426-9647.

THE BOARD APPROVES Here’s a good chance to get up in the faces of some veteran songwriters and industry types without having to bother them with your damned e-mail list. The Columbia Arts Team presents its Third Annual Songwriters Festival on Saturday, May 31, at the Hudson Opera House (329 Warren St., Hudson). The daylong event begins at noon with a series of panels, Q&A sessions and song critiques with pros like Paul Leka (writer of such ’60s hits as “Green Tambourine” and “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”), concert promoter Jordan Belkin, drummer-music lawyer-Metroland columnist Paul Rapp, and Rudds frontman/Albany expat John Powhida, among others. The featured guest will be Jeff Silbar (pictured) who penned the Bette Midler hit “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Silbar also will headline an 8 PM concert that evening, which also includes performances by some of the panelists, as well as any up-and-comer who buys a ticket to the festival (if they so desire). The all-day ticket is $50, and well worth it by our count. Call (800) 816-4802 or visit www.columbiaartsteam.org to make a reservation.

—John Brodeur

Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail John Brodeur at jbrodeur@metro land.net or call (518) 463-2500 ext. 145.



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