Back in March of this year I reviewed in this space an album I had first known as a boxed set on vinyl and has now been reissued in CD format. It was called The Astaire Story and I found it still beyond superlatives. Somewhere along the way Paul Ryan heard it too and liked it so much that he fashioned an act around it, and when I heard he was bringing The Way You Wear Your Hat to Crazy Coqs I promoted myself a table at ringside before you could say Style.
On the album Astaire was able to launch his vocals on the lighter-than-air cushion laid down for him by six of the finest jazz musicians on the planet; at Crazy Coqs with only the piano of Jamie Safir for support Ryan had to rely on his voice and personality and brought it off with Style to spare.
In an age where so-called singers feel duty bound to double as bungee jumpers it’s as refreshing as it is rare to monitor someone who just stands/sits there and tells a story to music and it seems clear that the advice Ethel Merman offered her understudy in Call Me Madam, a nervous Elaine Stritch, “Just sing the fucking song”, has somehow filtered down to Mr. Ryan, as that’s precisely what he does. It’s not easy standing up there alone with only a mic between you and the punters; try it sometime, but not without a Kevlar vest.
Ryan pulled it off to a fare-thee-well because not only does he possess a fine set of pipes but his material was crafted by the best in the business because the best in the business from Cole Porter to Jerome Kern via les frères Gershwin, Irving Berlin and their ilk (bizarrely enough Dick Rodgers never wrote anything for him) were standing in line to have Astaire introduce their songs on both stage and screen.
Completely sold on Astaire as I am, Ryan could, as far as I was concerned, kick off with Night And Day and work up to a climax, instead he opted for a much lower-profile number, My Shining Hour, which Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote for a minor Astaire movie called The Sky’s The Limit. He followed up with the title song from Funny Face (Astaire starred in both the original Broadway production in 1927 and also, exactly 30 years later, in the movie version) and then two more numbers featured in the movie, How Long Has This Been Going On and He Loves And She Loves and it was around about then, barely four numbers in that I became aware that the capacity crowd was holding its collective breath, rapt to the extent that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
And so it continued; 23 numbers without intermission including the encore, what else but One For My Baby, also written especially for Astaire in that same movie, The Sky’s The Limit. If not too many people know that then by definition neither are they aware that in the movie Astaire took it at a fast clip, light years away from the definitive reading by Sinatra.
With a capacity of 80 before they need to break out the shoehorns, Crazy Coqs is the epitome of intime and as such it fits Ryan’s style the way the glass slipper fit Cinderella’s foot, which is not the same as saying that talent like Ryan’s doesn’t belong in a slightly larger venue, the Palladium, say. Meanwhile catch him where and when you can. You’ll feel better for it.
Paul Ryan: The Way You Wear You Hat at Crazy Coqs, Sherwood Street, London, 26 June 2019