The first and last time I saw singer-songwriter-pianist Spencer Day perform was in 2015 when he made his Indianapolis debut at The Cabaret, then located at the Columbia Club. I recall he was then, and remains, not only one of the finest jazz crooners, but also one of the most talented composer-lyricists around. Accompanied by bassist Alex Frank and his longtime guitarist John Storie, Day solidified my past impression of him during his opening performance on Friday at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael in Carmel.
During his introductory remarks, Day expressed his joy at returning to the stage after so much time in isolation due to the pandemic. His first live performance since March of 2020, Day’s 90-minute show consisted of primarily Broadway songs, rendered in his signature jazz stylings, from his upcoming album titled “Broadway by Day” and also some of his original tunes. During the pandemic, Day spent time in Mexico in a town north of Puerto Vallarta, where he recorded the album. The influence of his temporary home in Latin America was clearly evident in some of his music.
Throughout the show, Day, who became well known after a 2002 performance on CBS’s “Star Search,” shared personal anecdotes about his Mormon upbringing, newfound self-awareness after a romantic breakup, struggles with anxiety, and other revelations. Ultimately, his stories spoke to his authenticity and willingness to express himself through his original music. For me, it was Day’s very thoughtful songs that revealed both his talent as a songwriter and willingness to be vulnerable and share his innermost feelings. It’s no wonder his five albums have been met with critical acclaim.
“Chateau Marmont,” one of Day’s original songs that he performed, is about a ghost that roams the legendary West Hollywood hotel. With its French musical references, it was a favorite. Another one called “The Movie of Your Life,” reflected Cole Porter’s influence on Day, who said he admires the Hoosier composer’s knack for rhyming. With lyrics such as “Did you have a happy ever after?/Underneath the Technicolor sky/Did it make you sing with joy and laughter?/Did it ever make you want to cry?,” Day demonstrates his gift for storytelling.
“Till You Come to Me” was another of Day’s original songs that spoke to his talent for creating imagery through his music. It is a powerful song filled with yearning and desperation, with lyrics such as “High noon, same room/This is when it gets so suffocating/The air sits heavy like the weight of my regret forever letting you go/And it don’t matter whether the windows are open or closed.”
On the lighter side, Day sang an original song titled “Hoosier Daddy” that he and his band members wrote during the plane ride to Indianapolis. With references to Indiana cities, in particular “Carmel by the Corn,” Day delighted the audience, once they corrected his pronunciation of “Car-MEL,” as in California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea, to the local vernacular “CAR-muhl.”
A highlight of Day’s varied show was a cleverly arranged piece titled “Places Medley.” Saying that growing up in Utah, he always dreamed of visiting exotic places so he sang lyrics to numerous famous songs about places such as “Gary, Indiana,” “Bali Hai,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.”
Aside from his accomplished musicianship and lush baritone voice, Day also exhibited a playful sense of humor that was engaging and an affable personality that was easy to connect with. On top of all that was a showmanship that reflected an entertainer who, by virtue of his obvious inner work, was comfortable in his own skin.
Closing the show with the previously mentioned, plaintive “Movie of Your Life,” with its musical references to “Cabaret,” Day returned for an encore, which showcased his distinctive, rich and seductive bass voice and virtuosity as a pianist.
Day’s show, performed in the elegant, urbane and intimate room that is Feinstein’s inside the glamorous Hotel Carmichael, was yet another reminder of how much I have missed hearing live music, audience applause and the power of music to heal and inspire.
For information about upcoming shows at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael, visit feinsteinshc.com.