Nicolas King at Birdland




By Marilyn Lester


There aren’t many performers who can put a large smile on your face and make it stick. Nicolas King is one of them. This delightful entertainer with a seemingly boundless enthusiasm exudes joy at every turn. It’s apparent he’s having a ball on stage, loves what he’s doing and maybe wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on earth than here with you, sharing the music. This isn’t to say King lacks substance. Au contraire, he is tremendously musically gifted. Entering on a swinging “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” he demonstrates his chops immediately. The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess translates well from opera to jazz, so the tune was a good choice for King (even though he’s too sweet to be a snaky Sportin’ Life). Likewise, a swinging version of the ballad, “Close Your Eyes” added spiffy life to this warhorse of a standard.

Several tunes were delivered with smooth transitions from one number to another, yielding well thought out mini-medleys. Such was a slow-tempo rendition of “On Second Thought” with “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “Goody Goody” (which King began as a monologue), paired with “I Wanna Be Around.” A highlight of the evening’s performance was a swinging “Just One of Those Things” with a riff on “On Green Dolphin Street” within the number. Piano man and music director, Billy Stritch, provided tight vocals on this arrangement, singing with King for a few bars here and there. As always, Stritch’s masterful playing added another layer of juice to the set. He’s adept at many styles, but to this reviewer excels when he gets to swing some jazz. King also added zest to “Johnny One Note,” a number that can be trying on the ears as performed by lesser singers. King made the piece come alive. Ray Marchica’s percussion riffs helped the tune pop. Neal Miner on the upright bass held ground throughout the set, playing a tight groove in the trio.

King is a theatrical performer, which adds to the overall enjoyment of the show. He’s been on stage most of his life, first as a child actor on Broadway, and lately as a vocalist, although he did make his singing debut with a gig at age 11. He’s got a treasure chest of anecdotes and stories to spice up his act, delivered with engaging sincerity and well-timed brevity. His ability to connect with the audience is practiced and quite genuine. King is a born communicator. Combine this core ability, with his acting skills and superb musicality and the result is an interpretation of the lyric that’s most always on the money. King’s vocal dynamics inform an arc that tells the story. And he scats. Beautifully. Scatting on “Sunday Morning” and “I Will Wait for You” left us wanting more.

King grew up listening to the greats, citing Sylvia Syms and Carmen McRae as influences. He’s channeling a great deal of Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme too. At age 25, the singer is still finding his true stylistic ground. Beyond the polish, there’s a more realized King waiting to emerge. Experimenting, finding his legs, that’s all well and good, because the odds are in favor of King growing with confidence into a more authentic version of himself as a vocalist. When that happens, his potential to take his place among those icons of jazz is probably going to be a given.