Dave Koz performs at the Sugar Bar accompanied by Valerie Simpson (photo: Damara Lynn Greene)
You never know what will go down at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar’s world-famous Thursday Night Open Mic shows, but last week’s (July 19) installment really took the cake—to be exact, three cakes.
That’s because, as per Sugar Bar tradition, whenever someone celebrates a birthday on Thursday Open Mic Night, Valerie Simpson leads a “Happy Birthday To You” singalong/birthday cake presentation ceremony. On this particular Thursday night, there were three birthdays being smultaneously celebrated, yet somehow it was anticlimactic.
For just before the cakes came out, Dave Koz came up. Two years ago Koz coaxed Simpson into joining him on his annual Christmas tour, a grueling grind of 24 shows in 29 days—and in a bus, something she’d never done, not even during Ashford & Simpson’s heyday. So she surprised him by showing up at his July 13 Smooth Cruise: Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns Tour Hudson River yacht show, and he returned the honor at the Sugar Bar by hauling out his alto sax and playing a nuanced “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with Simpson accompanying on piano.
“It’s like floating on a cloud,” a giddy Koz said afterward. And not to slight the incomparable soul singer Ron Grant, who preceded Koz, or Open Mic Night host Chazz Lamar Shepherd, who recently played lawyer Billy Flynn opposite Simpson’s jailhouse Matron “Mama” Morton in the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Chicago, who evoked Prince right after Grant.
And then Koz stated the obvious.
Pointing to the table nearest to the stage, where Simpson had returned to rejoin the other background singers gathered there, he said, “No other restaurant has a table like the one here where they break out in song! Go to another restaurant, it ain’t gonna happen!”
But it did last Thursday at the Sugar Bar, same as every Thursday night--with or without the three cakes.