Issue 553 : May 4-10, 2006

Top live show
Danny’s Skylight Room; Sun 7, Mon 8, May 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29

“Charlie Cochran, I love Charlie Cochran!” thundered Nina Simone as she held court in her dressing room at the Beacon Theatre in 1994. Onlookers seemed puzzled: Who was this Charlie Cochran who had won the fierce diva’s approval? Judy Garland specialists know him as the saloon singer and pianist who sheltered their down-and-out idol in his New York apartment the month before she died. To his other admirers—who’ve included Anita O’Day, Bobby Short and Lee Wiley—Cochran is a cuddly-voiced baritone who wears his worldliness lightly.

In 1958, when Cochran and Simone shared a bill at the now-forgotten Playroom on West 56th, he was as breezy as she was dark and foreboding. A sweet-faced guy next door, he loved the golden age of Hollywood, and unearthed the obscure movie-musical gems that tended to get cut from Late Late Show prints. His swinging bonhomie suggested Fred Astaire, and as luck would have it, Astaire invited Cochran to record for Ava, a label he created in 1962.

Cochran inhabited some of the hipper Manhattan and L.A. piano bars until 1987, when he semiretired to West Palm Beach, Florida. He resurfaced at Danny’s Skylight Room in 2003, and that brief stint yielded the new
Charles Cochran Live in New York (Lanier Hall). Now, at 69, he’s making a welcome return with his first extended local engagement since he moved away in the ’80s. To hear him is to snuggle up with the neglected chapters of the Great American Songbook, a genial teddy bear at your side.—James Gavin