FOR SOME TIME NOW, I HAVE BEEN spending my Tuesdays listening to Mark Mitchell sing jazz standards at the Baltic Room. This has become something of an education, an initiation into the pleasures of American popular song. I have always wanted to learn these songs, to become more intimate with their remarkable sensitivity, with the way they are able to detail the purple and blue world of the lonely lover. "And I'll forget you/I will," says Billy Strayhorn's eternal "Lush Life" which, among the 93 or so songs Mark regularly performs (including "Fly Me to the Moon," "Autumn Leaves," "Scotch and Soda," and "You've Changed") is the one I most enjoy hearing.

Mark Mitchell is not a trained jazz singer. He came to the art as a devotee; in the end he had no recourse other than to sing. He has a delivery that is never heavy or bold but breezy, honest, and infinitely charming. At every moment he sings he is open about how much pleasure he is deriving from these songs filled with broken hearts, lonely cab rides, cocktails, and the haze of cigarette smoke. When he performs, accompanied by young and elegant pianist Jim Noriega, he has about him the air of a bankrupt aristocrat who knows that the point of everything is to waste everything, that greatness and beauty can only come at enormous expense to the body and the bank. In this world one pursues but never arrives; one buys another round for everyone instead of paying the rent; and always the one you love is "somewhere, not here."

I imagine Mark as a combination of the longing Barthes expressed in his book Lover's Discourse ("upon waking the amorous subject is once again besieged by the anxieties of his passion") and Chet Baker's otherworldly sweetness.

But there are spaces in his songs that are entirely his own, that are informed by his own position in the world. If you appreciate loss, loneliness, and the type of existence that celebrates only after everything is over and exhausted, then you should join me in this most sentimental education in America's greatest songs. MUSIC

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