|Myriam Phiro onstage at Birdland|
Guest review by Ellen Godfrey:
THE LITTLE SPARROW - MYRIAM PHIRO’S TRIBUTE TO EDITH PIAF
French-Canadian jazz and cabaret singer Myriam Phiro brought her cabaret tribute to Birdland, the popular New York City jazz club, to honor the legendary Edith Piaf. This year marks 103 years since her death. Ms. Phiro has given sold out concerts in many cabaret and jazz clubs including Joe’s Pub, the Rainbow Room, and 54 Below, just to to name a few. She has performed her Piaf tribute in many of these and in other venues. The great chanteuse, Edith Piaf, was an idol of Ms. Phiro, who was inspired to share her love of Piaf with her audience. Her “Piaf” cabaret included many of her songs as well as information about Piaf’s life.
Despite her fame and her musical accomplishments, Piaf had a hard and sad life. Edith Piaf, whose nickname was “the little sparrow,", was born on December 19, 1915 in Belleville, a suburb of Paris. Her father was a street singer. Her mother abandoned her to a bordello, where she lived for several years. When she was 14, she joined her father as a street performer. A night club owner, Louis Leplee, discovered her in Pigalle in 1935 and was so impressed with her voice that he hired her immediately. She became not only a singer, but also a songwriter and cabaret star.
She was the most famous singer in France and sang often at the Olympia Music Hall there. After the end of World War II, her fame continued to grow and she started touring the world. She was popular in the United States and performed many times on the Ed Sullivan show and in several theaters in New York City. She also composed many of her own songs such as “La Vie in Rose” and “Milord.” She had a huge following wherever she went.
Unfortunately, like Judy Garland, another great singing star of the time, she began drinking and taking drugs. She died in 1963 at the age of 47, leaving behind a legacy of recordings, books, and films.
Myriam Phiro received huge applause as she entered the stage on Thursday night, dressed in a simple long black dress, the only color that Piaf ever wore for her concerts. Ms. Phiro has a warm personality and immediately made the audience feel at home. On-stage, she was accompanied by a three piece orchestra: pianist and accordionist Hyuna Park, double bass player Yoshi Waki, and percussionist Alex Raderman.
All three of them blended together in the jazz format and kept the show moving with some improvisation and lots of enthusiasm. Later in the program, two more talented musicians were added, each one playing along with Ms. Phiro: Adrien Chevalier, a jazz violinist from Provence, whose family are violinists, and Linus Wyrsch, a well known jazz clarinet player. Each of them accompanied Ms. Phiro with great style.
She opened with her jazz trio accompanying her in the Rod Stewart song “I Wish You Love,” which was performed with a jazz beat. Ms. Phiro has a charming warm soprano voice that filled the space beautifully. She started singing in French, then switched to English, and then returned to French. She did this language switching in several of her songs.
For her second song, “C’est magnifique”, written by the great Cole Porter, she told the audience that they would be singing along with her when she gave them the signal to join in with “ou la la la.” The audience had great fun singing together.
After these two songs, Ms. Phiro began the celebration of what would have been Edith Piaf’s 103rd birthday. She interspersed information about Piaf’s life between some of her songs. Her wonderful pianist, who supported the singer so well, picked up an accordion and showed her great musicianship in this instrument as well. She played the Piaf song “L’Accordeoniste”, in true cabaret style. Ms. Phiro sang it of course, in beautiful French with a smoky quality to her voice. Although she sings in the “Piaf” style she does not try to imitate Piaf’s voice. The song starts slowly, then gets more and more frantic as she realizes her boyfriend will probably not be returning from war.
Other well-known Piaf songs were “La Vie En Rose”, seeing the world through rose colored glasses; “La foule” in which the crowd carries a woman in love through the crowd and loses a man she finds; and “Sous le ciel de Paris” describing the life under Paris skies. While all of Piaf songs were about love or loss, they all have a different sound and a different rhythm-- some slow, some soulful, some happy, and some sad. Ms. Phiro always found the right atmosphere for each song
Ms. Phiro surprised us by telling us that she was in love, not just with the songs, but with the double bass!! The double bass player gave her his instrument and she sang two songs while accompanying herself on the bass. A multi-talented lady!
The cabaret that Ms. Phiro put together was delightful and she and her musicians received great applause when the show ended. I hope that Ms. Phiro will continue to present these wonderful cabaret performances.
Piaf’s blue house still stands in Belleville and has been turned into a small museum, whose hours are very irregular. I was lucky enough to have seen it and just standing in front of it brought back many memories of her wonderful career.
© meche kroop