In 1974, Daryl was off to start her career in New York. She met up with other musicians, including Dave McKenna, the jazz pianist from her hometown. One of her first jobs was at Jilly’s, a West 52nd Street nightclub owned by Frank Sinatra’s pal, which offered a jazz-influenced trio until almost dawn.
At one point, while she was playing at Jilly’s, Daryl’s parents came down from Rhode Island to visit. It was Daryl’s night off, but she wanted to take them to see the club. Upon arriving, however, they saw a sign saying that Jilly’s was closed for a private party. Daryl, disappointed, apologized to her parents. Suddenly the door opened and owner Jilly came out.
“Daryl? I thought I heard your voice.” Jilly invited them inside to the private party, and she met the guest of honor — “Old Blue Eyes” himself.
Jimmy Weston’s was another supper club that featured back-to-back jazz trios. “Someone had suggested Jimmy Weston’s, and I just walked in. I met great musicians there, Dorothy Donegan, Hazel Scott.”
Michael’s Pub was yet another jazz spot where Daryl met other musicians, and here she found herself sitting in with talents like Red Norvo, Bobby Hackett, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton. She came to know many of the legendary jazz musicians she had long admired, and who now in turn admired her musicianship.
Daryl was lucky, and talented enough, to work in music from the time she arrived in New York. She did not have to take other jobs to support herself. She had taken her father’s advice and immediately joined the musicians’ union. He had also suggested she look up Cy Coleman and remind Coleman of his days playing with Sammy Sherman in the Catskills. When Daryl went to meet Coleman, she asked him if he could suggest a bass player for one of her first New York gigs. The name he came up with was the ubiquitous Jay Leonhart, who has since joined her many times in clubs and on recordings.
Meanwhile, her own style matured. “I came to New York with a large repertoire, but I didn’t have much information about the songs and songwriters. I found that New York audiences came up to me and made me aware of the importance of who wrote what. I quickly realized this was a different kind of proving ground.”
Her knowledge of musical history grew. She developed an affinity for one of the first lady pianists, Ramona Davies, who played with the Paul Whiteman’s Band and appeared in a few movies. Daryl still goes back to the early ’20’s and ’30’s music for her own listening pleasure. Her singing influences remain Mildred Bailey, as well as Sylvia Syms, who became a good friend and mentor, and Daryl has a great respect for Blossom Dearie.
Daryl made her first recording, I’m A Dreamer, Aren’t We all?, which led to a tour with Artie Shaw’s band in 1983, when he came out of retirement. She also performed with re-creations of the Paul Whiteman and Ray Noble bands, as well as the American Jazz Orchestra and WDR Jazz Orchestra of Germany.
In the 1970’s, when Daryl arrived in New York, major hotels still regularly featured live music, and Daryl performed in the hotel show rooms, including the Sheraton. Although fewer hotels today feature live music, one exception is the elegant Waldorf Astoria, where, for the past few years, Daryl has performed on Cole Porter’s piano. “I’m an entertainer. I like having people around me. In a hotel, sometimes you have to be to be all things to all people, people from different countries. You have to make your presence known just enough but also know when not to call too much attention to yourself.””Because of my repertoire, the American songbook, some jazz standards, and some things that you don’t hear too often, it’s hard to categorize myself. I end up saying, ‘I’m a jazz/cabaret artist because I enjoy presenting material that you may not have heard to death.'”
From Kurt Weill to Dizzy Gillespie — Daryl Sherman presents it all — “kicking it around” at straight-ahead jazz venues like the JVC Jazz Festival; programs with Dick Hyman at the 92nd Street Y, Lincoln Center, and VanWezel Hall in Sarasota, Florida; tributes to jazz greats like Mildred Bailey. She has also appeared at supper clubs, such as Freddy’s, where she recorded a second album (She’s A Great, Great Girl), and the cozy, upscale FireBird Cafe. She is drawn most to a venue which affords intimacy and contact with the audience. She also likes working with a trio, guitar, bass or a horn player, giving her the chance to play piano and then get up and sing.
“I particularly like working with a guitar because I like the lighter texture, and it also frees me from the piano because it is a chordal instrument.”
She calls herself a “reactive performer,” not a set way of playing piano, rarely repeating herself. Playing with different musicians expands this approach to her music.
“There are so many bass players, for example, who have different sounds on their instruments, different concepts of time, the beat, that make you play differently. And horn players — they have to be able to enhance and continue my thoughts as a singer. It takes a lot of listening to each other.”
She aims for economy in her music, citing examples like Shirley Horn and Blossom Dearie. Sylvia Syms advised her to, “Stop listening to the sound of your voice, and think about the song and what the song is saying.” Daryl feels that can apply just as well to a pianist; she is not one who tries to “fill all the spaces.”
Relaxation? In what time there is, she likes to ride horses and her bike. And Daryl particularly loves dancing, and laughingly admits,
“I am a closet salsa dancer.”
With her hotel and club performances, there isn’t much down time, but Daryl also enjoys cooking for friends who enjoy her “concoctions.” But most of her time is involved with music, including coaching young musicians and participating in workshops.
“Some people see me in one way, either just seated at the piano, or just singing in front of the piano, sometimes in intimate settings, sometimes in concert halls, not realizing that I do all these things. I have made my living as a musician for all the years I’ve been here, and have pretty much enjoyed doing what I wanted to do musically.” -Elizabeth Ahlfors