This Saturday brings an end to a privileged musical experience: legendary singer-songwriter Judy Collins' intimate season performances at the Cafe Carlyle, a famed uptown supper club that seems frozen in the 1930's.
For the past month Collins has been holding weekly court at the posh club where she performs on a small dark stage surrounded by jacketed diners. She strums a 12-string guitar and is accompanied on the piano by her musical director, Russell Walden. There is also her famous siren-like soprano voice, which can be heard through the club's glass door. Collins' voice, which recently turned 70, still sounds pristine.
At a show last week Collins arrived on stage wearing a silk dress as members of the audience were finishing their Dover Sole, the Cafe's signature dish. Collins played Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" before greeting her audience. "Thank you for coming to the Carlyle," she said. "I'm glad to see you all here today. To be honest I'm glad to be anywhere today." She would conduct the rest of the show in a similar fashion, switching from playful cabaret banter to masterful song renditions.
Common to folk music tradition Collins played many songs that were not her own, including songs by Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. She led the business-suit crowd though spirited sing-a-longs of John Denver's "Country Roads" and the classic, "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Towards the end of her set she paid heartfelt tribute to Stephen Sondheim with her hit version of his ballad, "Send in the Clowns."
In between songs she switched to her banter and stories. She seemed to have an endless bag of Eisenhower and Mae West jokes - jokes that were a success with the Carlyle audience but that would have probably been lost on a younger crowd. One Mae West joke went over particularly well:
"Mae West was at a party wearing a beautiful dress, when she ran into a friend of hers," Collins began. "Her friend asked, 'How did you get that dress?' Mae replied, 'I slept with one man that had 10,000 dollars.' Several years later they ran into each other again at a party, and it was Mae's friend that now had a nice dress. Mae asked her how she got it. The friend replied, 'I slept with 10,000 men that each had a buck."
Collins also recounted personal anecdotes from the 60's, during which she made her name in the folk revival. She recalled a night at Gerde's Folk City, a West Village venue that was an institute to the folk scene at the time.
"It wasn't as nice as this place," she joked. "It was full of different bottles, different colors, and they all got you really drunk. One night I started drinking with this guy at the bar. He was dressed badly, even for the 60's. He would mumble when he talked. I could barely understand what he was saying. Then I found out he was Bob Dylan."
She went on to play material from her new album, on which is a duet with Joan Baez, a longtime friend.
"Joanie calls me up every once and a while," Collins said. "She says, 'There are only two of us left. We have to stick together.'"