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Ruby Bishop packs Martin's, PNB's Pinocchio, free Valentine's events
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

The loved, the sort-of loved and the truly unloved all gather together this weekend to celebrate Valentine's Day. Bits&Bytes is happy to report some major Gay events: Coronation 2009 at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel, some offbeat performances and some out-and-out free events, all tomorrow, Saturday, February 14. In other news, The power of the press has made its mark on Ruby Bishop and her twice-a-week visits to Martin's Off Madison. And, more great news, Pacific Northwest Ballet scored a major triumph with its family-friendly matinee series of a new ballet based on Pinocchio. Read on:

POWER OF THE PRESS: RUBY BISHOP PACKS MARTIN'S OFF MADISON
Martin's Off Madison prides itself in being a Gay-owned, primarily Gay-staffed piano bar for a wide variety of Seattle customers. "Never a cover charge" is the motto for the restaurant and bar that offers live music seven nights a week - sometimes twice a day. A recent Sunday Seattle Times article about Ruby Bishop, the 89-year old Seattle legend who plays at Martin's every Monday and now for Sunday brunch, has sent the telephone flying off the wall. Reservations are booked weeks ahead, walk-ins are amazed that there is a waiting list. On one recent Monday night, a potential table of eight walked in and were told that it would be two weeks before a table for eight would be available for Bishop's Monday night gig. All eight stayed and stood for two hours to hear the popular African American pianist/sometimes singer. It's great to see the power of the press directed toward a deserving person & and Ruby Bishop is, indeed, deserving.

On the Monday before the article appeared, "the faithful" gathered, some Gay, some straight, many fans of Bishop for decades. She gained a new popularity at the GLBT community about a decade ago when she started appearing at The Oak Room at Thumper's in the final years of the popular Gay-owned restaurant and bar. Now that Thumper's is gone and now is the site of a new apartment building, Bishop has shifted to Martin's where the match of the legendary performer and the music-every-night policy is perfect.

On a cold rainy Monday night in January, Bishop delighted her intimate turnout of loyal fans with "You've Changed," "September In The Rain," "I Love You" and Fats Waller's comic classic, "Your Feets Too Big." "Misty," "My Funny Valentine," "Hard Hearted Hannah" (in Bishop's delightful gravel-voiced delivery), "Would Jesus Wear A Rolex (On His Television Show)?" and "Guess Who I Saw Today?" followed. "Ain't Misbehavin'," another Fats Waller classic, ended the evening for Bits&Bytes, but Bishop played for another hour.

"I specialize in playing the songs nobody takes the time to play anymore," Bishop often says to start a set or open the evening. Her trademarked "Ruby," always done as a piano solo, usually ends every performance.

On the day "of the article" - a two-page feature with historic and contemporary photographs - the Sunday brunch was full but not a turn-away day. Starting at 11 a.m., Bishop opened with "Try A Little Tenderness" with a knockout "Mood Indigo" following. "Twilight Time," "Misty," "It's Magic," "What Kind Of Fool Am I?" continued the set. Later, "Stella By Starlight," "Moonglow," "September In The Rain" and "When They Begin The Beguine" brought happy memories to the nostalgia-loving crowd.

Monday night found a turn-away crowd gathered to see The Legend and take a trip, for many, down memory lane. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," a fitting choice for the Gay fans and the new-to-Martin's straight crowd, started the evening. The husband-and-wife seated next to our table noted that they had heard Bishop on their 25th anniversary - "years ago!" - at the Sorrento Hotel. "It All Depends On You," "Lady Be Good," "Stardust," "Near You," Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," better known as the theme to the Hollywood classic, The Sting, delighted the appreciative crowd. "I Wanna Be Around (To Pick Up The Pieces When Somebody Breaks Your Heart" followed, with Bishop quipping that "it's the ultimate revenge song." "Tenderly," "At Last" (with a nod to the new president - "a moment I never thought I'd live to see," Bishop gushed), "Sweet Georgia Brown," "As Time Goes By," "Georgia On My Mind" followed.

During her first break, Bishop mixed and mingled with the appreciative crowd. Stopping by Bits&Bytes' table, she chatted with the anniversary couple next to us. "Do you remember playing for our 25th anniversary?" the woman questioned. "Of course," Bishop smiled, "I never forget a fan."

The second set started with "My Sweet Embraceable You," another Gershwin classic. "Mack The Knife," "Unforgettable," "Can't We Be Friends?" and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" followed, ending Bits&Bytes' Monday-evening stay with Ruby Bishop. When "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" was new - "the biggest song in years," Bishop reminded the smiling crowd, "I was playing at a bar on the Oregon coast and I had 18 requests in one night."

The next Sunday, this scribe returned for another brunch visit to Ruby Bishop. Her favorites, the crowd's favorites, a few requests filled the two hours. Dozens of songs came, seemingly from out of nowhere, to delight the overflow crowd - many standing to hear her. "If I Had You," I Love You," "Body And Soul," "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams," "It Had To Be You," "It's A Wonderful World," Brubeck's "Take 5," "From Here To Eternity," "Bye, Bye Blackbird," "Blue Moon" and "Can't We Be Friends?" followed, the rarities mixing with Bishop's standards. It's clear the talented pianist has thousands and thousands of songs in her repertory. Audience requests are usually met, especially if there are classics from The Great American Songbook.

Sometimes journalists wonder about the impact a newspaper article or a television broadcast can have, especially a positive article. Well, Ruby Bishop can tell you, there's power in the press. Reservations for Bishop's Monday night or Sunday brunch appearances are obviously a must. Call (206) 325-7000 for reservations. Check the whole music scene at Martin's at www.martinsoffmadison.com. You'll be glad you did.

VALENTINE'S DAY OFFERS FREE CABARET, COURT, LOVE SONGS & MORE
Tomorrow, February 14, brings the annual Valentine's Day celebration. With the Court of Seattle's Coronation 2009 as the major focus for the Emerald City's GLBT crowd, it's great to report several other special musical programs - one of them free.

Miss Rose and Her Rhythm Percolators return to the elegant Fireside Room at the historic Sorrento Hotel for a free cabaret evening starting at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. The special Valentine's Day appearance is the group's only February encore at the swanky spot on First Hill. Miss Rose, actually Sunga Rose, loves the songs of the 1920s and early 1930s. With her ever-present ukulele and her bobbed hair, her nylons with seams, her modern-yet-period wardrobe, Miss Rose is a vocal and visual delight.

Bits&Bytes has followed the spunky, sprightly singer for several years and is never disappointed at her evenings of song and patter. She loves to sing the verses of most of her period songs, the introductions that are often omitted in modern-day performances.

On a recent Saturday night, Miss Rose and her talented Rhythm Percolators delighted a capacity crowd at the Fireside Room with "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," a fitting song for a cold, cold night in Seattle's winter. Her Betty Boop voice quieted the raucous crowd and let her instrumentalists shine in their own right - stride piano, bass and a coronet with other brass doubling. A perky "Cheerful Little Earful," an early Gershwin novelty number, followed. A period perfect "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me" came next, introduced by the sassy Miss Rose as "The low self-esteem love song." With a ukulele focus, "What Do We Do On A Dew, Dew, Dewey Day?" followed. An early Bing Crosby hit, "My Baby Don't Mean Maybe Now," came next. "Who Walks In," which is also the title song on her new CD release, followed. The CD is a marvelous collection of musical rarities and is available at all of the group's shows.

For her second set, a group of her beloved "animal songs" opened the show. "Never Swat A Fly," "At The Cod Fish Ball," "My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now" were all charming and "may" be the basis for her second CD. "Let's Fall In Love" turned the set romantic, and Harold Arlen's "Come Easy, Go Easy Love" gave a melancholy variation to the evening.

Miss Rose's Valentine's Day cabaret - with no cover charge - runs 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. She hopes to return to the Sorrento for Saturday nights in March. Watch Bits&Bytes for details. To keep up to date, sign up at newsletter@missroserhythm.com.

Julie Cascioppo, a Seattle cabaret favorite, returns from nearly a year in Bali, where she has been appearing at a swanky hotel, for Love Songs, Love Songs, And More Love Songs, a special February 14 show at Egan's Ballard Jam House, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Craig Hoyer joins the popular singer for the evening of "romantic songs and sea shanties of exotic love in paradisaical settings." Sounds like quite a show. Reservations - a must - at (206) 789-1621. There is a $10 cover charge.

PNB SCORES WITH NEW FAMILY-FRIENDLY PINOCCHIO BALLET
Students and faculty of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School scored a major triumph last weekend with a new, family-friendly production of Pinocchio that was designed - and priced - for family audiences. The 60-minute work was choreographed by Bruce Wells, a Tacoma native who danced for Balanchine at New York City Ballet, where he was a soloist. Wells has been a member of the PNB School faculty for many years and choreographed earlier productions of Snow White, in 2001, and Hansel & Gretel, in 2006 using students of the PNB program.

The new Pinocchio was a delight from start to finish. Challenging choreography showcased the older students - many in their late teens. The Tiny Tot starter group had large ensemble numbers designed to spotlight their beginning talents. Family and friends - many with large bouquets of flowers - packed the main floor at the Saturday matinee at 1 p.m. Two Sunday matinees featured different students in the production. While Nathaniel Solis as The Real Boy that Pinocchio turns into and Anastasia St. Marie as the Puppet Pinocchio were excellent, it was young Jordan Veit as The Cricket who stole the heart of many in the audience.

In these troubled financial times, the fully staged Pinocchio was a big gamble for PNB. Amazingly, it was a wise one. The staging not only whetted interest in ballet for many children in the crowd, it also showcased the students in the school. Dancing at McCaw Hall, home of the PNB company, must have been a big thrill for everyone in the casts of 60. A big Bits&Bytes "Bravo!" in PNB and all concerned.

PNB continues its main stage season with March 12-22 performances of its four-part Broadway Festival with Swan Lake, probably the most beloved ballet in the repertoire, running April 9-19. Complete details are available at www.pnb.org or at (206) 441-2424.

GAY THEMED MYSTERY PLANNED FOR MONDAY, FREE READING AT 8 P.M.
A new murder mystery with a Gay-theme and plot elements, Highway Of The Soul, is offered in a free play reading on Monday night, February 16, at the Balagan Theatre at 1117 East Pike on Capitol Hill. The 90-minute reading features six local actors under the direction of Stephanie Farhood. Highway Of The Soul is set in Los Angeles in the late 1950s and contrasts "the sunny, optimistic Los Angeles of that era" with "a tangle of relationships, a skeleton in the closet and murder." The production starts at 8 p.m. but the theater's lobby and bar will open at 7 p.m. In these tough economic times, free is a major factor.

Information at (360) 491-1220.

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