Sponsored by Fisher Center and Catskill Jazz Factory, Franco-American virtuoso pianist Dan Tepfer (called “riveting and inspiring” by The New York Times) teamed up with vocalist, dancer, and actress Camille Bertault for an evening of cabaret at Bard’s LUMA Theater. Bertault was on the French cabaret scene with a small band when her amazing scat version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” went viral on YouTube. Admired for her jazzy baroque scat embellishments, Bertault has been acclaimed by DownBeat magazine and numerous jazz blogs.
Both Tepfer (depicted in teaser photo) and Bertault are bi-lingual; they appeared to have an intuitive appreciation of each other as they explored the 20th century French Songbook. While Bertault sang only in French, either she or Tepfer delivered engaging introductions in English, often with comic panache. Beginning with “I have Two Loves,” written originally for American chanteuse Josephine Baker, Bertault offered a delightfully impish version, changing the Baker version of southern savannah to Manhattan. She next sang the title track of her debut disc En Vie (“From Life”).
Next was “I Sing the Dance of Love” by Serge Gainsbourg , which he wrote for Juliette Greco, the Romantic muse of the Existentialist movement. (Greco has recorded about two dozen albums.) Bertault’s version provided a playful heightened charm to this post-war Romantic classic. With Jacques Brel’s “Ne quittez pas!” (“Don’t Leave Me!”), Bertault invested the lyrics with a fey, charming frailty that freighted an undercurrent of vulnerability.
Moving to a lighter vein of romantic comedy, Bertault sang a song with zany absurd lyrics about making herself a small doll. A nostalgic song about lost love bemoaned a husband who lost the love of his life to “his wife’s friend.” Turning to the even more zany contemporary comic Leo Faure (who also produces satiric videos), she sang of looking for the beloved with eyes in the rain.
Bertault then sang that much-recorded and beloved pop-jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” a song by the French poet Jacques Prévert. Singer Jo Stafford first made this song popular in English (1947). (The French title with music by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma is actually “Dead Leaves.”) Bertault’s high-pitched version highlighted innocence rather than the traditional tragedy of experience. The final stanza concludes:
Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When Autumn leaves start to fall.
One aspect of Bertault’s adroit performance that can’t be explained, but only heard, remains her ability to improvise additional scat riffs when singing. Tepfer on piano was by turns sensitive, extrovertly comic, whimsical, and achingly tragic. This was a delightful evening of romance, comedy, nostalgia, and melancholy presented by two natural talents who could adeptly caper and sing in a variety of popular musical modalities.