Listening to Ellis Larkins, the celebrated jazz pianist now performing at Tangerine, is like being on a luxury cruise bound for nowhere. You may not know where you’re going, but you certainly have fun getting there.
So does Larkins. This former protege of Count Basie and Duke Ellington–whose music apparently remains his major source of inspiration–is one of the classiest improvisers in the business. Like the great Art Tatum he can take a melody and baby it; he can worry it; he can carefully take it apart. He can hide the beat, or dance a pirouette about it. Yet, withal, Larkins never loses the melody, the beat, or the audience. He’s always firmly in charge, and he lets you know it, if only by the modest, reassuring smile he flashes now and then. His music leaves you feeling, well, cautiously optimistic.
Larkins–along with his able bassist, Wilbur Little–plays every hour on the hour, ten ’til three, Tuesday through Saturday. In between sets (which, unfortunately, are rather short) you can either repair to the bar, or to the jukebox. I usually do both. However, if you must throw your money away do it on the jukebox, which, for the benefit of nostalgia buffs, only contains selections from the thirties and forties. Where else, after all, can you hear Judy Garland sing “Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You” and Marlene Dietrich croon “Lili Marlene” for a mere quarter?