Singer, pianist and composer Billy Stritch has been associated with several big-name artists over the years, including Liza Minnelli, Charles Aznavour and Reba McEntire. Even so, they're no matchfor the parade of tunesmiths Stritch conjured and celebrated Saturday night at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club: Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Stephen Sondheim, Cy Coleman and Ivan Lins, among many others. Of course, good taste doesn't necessarily translate into good entertainment. But Stritch pulled off the trick with disarming ease, as if simply sharing his musical enthusiasms with close friends. Indeed, he confided during the early show that he's something of an accidental classic-pop evangelist. He stumbled upon the Great American Songbook while growing up in Texas, watching Carol Burnett and Cher occasionally revive a pop evergreen on TV. He was converted overnight. Though Stritch's voice isn't particularly distinctive, it's strong, smooth and tuneful, and he easily negotiated the high-kick modulations that punctuated his repertoire, turning "Mountain Greenery" and other vintage songs into brassy showstoppers. His piano arrangements were colored by jazz harmonies, but he's clearly a melody man at heart, as well as a sucker for lyrics brimming with wordplay and wit. Stritch also revealed a soft spot for ballads that cut deeply to the heart of the matter. The seldom-heard "Let Me Down Easy," composed by Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, created an especially poignant interlude, surfacing amid a vibrant collection of trio arrangements enlivened by bassist Steve Doyle and drummer Warren Odze.
– Mike Joyce