Carly Simon | Tom Fenton | Singers Celebrate, Date

Carly Simon Back With Original Hit Producer

Carly Simon told me that she's back in the studio with her most illustrious producing partner, Richard Perry, after her triumphant show at the Apollo Theatre on Saturday night.

Simon and Perry had a string of gigantic hits together in the '70s and '80s, from "You're So Vain" to "Nobody Does It Better." Their relationship was reminiscent of the one between The Beatles and George Martin or Burt Bacharach with Dionne Warwick.

"We don't have a label yet, but there are three or four sniffing around," she told me. "The songs just sound right."

Perry, you may know, was the man behind Rod Stewart's recent comeback as a crooner. Together Simon and Perry are sure to be following that yellow brick road. Clive Davis, are you listening?

The show Saturday night, which donated a portion of the proceeds to the Apollo Foundation, was a rare treat and an eclectic mix of Christmas songs, Simon hits and family favorites. A makeup-less, sweatpants-wearing Diane Sawyer and famed actress Cicely Tyson were among the well-known types scattered through the audience.

It was a momentous occasion because Simon — a coltishly hot 59-year-old with high cheekbones and a mane of shaggy strawberry blonde hair — does not like to perform live on stage. Her last real show was at a downtown club about 10 years ago to promote one of her Arista albums. So this was a big deal, a point driven home by die-hard fans that came from all over to witness the event.

Like Simon's highly autobiographical, literate and catchy songs, it was an event fraught with meaning. Both her former sister-in-law Kate Taylor and brother-in-law Livingston were on hand and performed. Simon's children, Sally and Ben, her Broadway composer-singer sister Lucy Simon and her singer daughter Julie Levine were also in the audience. Simon's older sister, opera singer Joanna, cheered them all on from the audience.

This meant that the only missing member of either the formerly combined Simon-Taylor family was James, who was conspicuously absent. But that was kind of the point, in a weird way. Wherever you were on Saturday night, Sweet Baby James, you missed quite a show.

Simon's legendary stage fright was eased not only by the appearance of family members — she called the Taylors, respectively, her "forever" sister- and brother-in-law — but also by co-host BeBe Winans, a big church choir of young men and Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. There were also children on the stage, stuffed animals and a rare casual mood for such a monumental show, as if the audience had just wandered into Simon's living room.

There were many references to Martha's Vineyard, where Simon lives. And Carly had some prepared remarks to fall back on, including giving a little history of the Apollo.

Carly did perform several of her hits: "Jesse," "You Belong to Me," "Anticipation," "You're So Vain" and "Coming Around Again" as a lovely encore. Her voice, husky from laryngitis, was nevertheless rich as ever as she reproduced each one without fail.

But it was not a greatest hits concert. Simon sang with her kids, with her sister and niece, with her sister-in-law and a band member and with Winans. She gave a nice rendition of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," noting that he had sung "Imagine" for the first time on the Apollo stage on Dec. 17, 1969 — exactly 35 years ago.

Winans and Thomas sang a Christmas song together and Thomas did his own called "New York Christmas." Either one or both could become a holiday staple, easily. Winans, working with a temperature and the remnants of the flu, is a little too modest a performer, which is maybe why he has never crossed over to mainstream pop. He is a dynamic singer with an impressive range and enough charisma to be a big R&B star. What he probably needs is a manager or a record label to give him the extra push.

The surprise star of Saturday's show, however, was Livingston Taylor. He brought the house down with a hellfire number called "Step by Step," which was so convincing I thought he might have been born again. He assured me after the show this was not the case, but he has almost finished a CD including duets with Carly, James, Kate and a few surprise "contemporary" artists. Taylor will start shopping it to labels in the spring. From the sound of it, Concord, Sanctuary or Artemis should snap it right up.

So will we have wait another decade for a live Carly Simon show? Let's put it this way: I wouldn't advise you to hold your breath. But in the meantime, there's always Carly's new Christmas album on Rhino.

Carly did lament that maybe no one is promoting that CD, since it didn't turn up in many holiday roundups. I told her that that sort of thing is now only for the likes of Lindsay Lohan.

"I know I'm supposed to know who that is," she responded sheepishly.

No, dear, you're not. It's just a bad dream.

The News Loses Another Hero

Say goodbye to "CBS Evening News" foreign correspondent Tom Fenton. A staple for 34 years, Fenton is calling it quits this week.

Add his name to those of Fred Francis and Bob Hager, who each retired from NBC recently, as well as, of course, Tom Brokaw. The Edward R. Murrow era of news reporting is really coming to an end now as these reporters, who are not stars but journalists in the old sense of the word, are succeeded by a new generation.

Fenton almost got pushed out of CBS 10 years ago, but hung in as a Moscow correspondent and reported for the network from London since 1996. Among Fenton's many accomplishments: he was the first to note changes in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he was also first to interview Ayatollah Khomeini after the Shah of Iran was ousted in 1979.

But the news business has changed, and the hard-news edge that made guys like Fenton stand out is being eroded each year. If I were Tom Fenton, I'd say "enough" too, before things get worse.

One Singer Celebrates, Another Dates

Happy birthday to the immortal R&B queen of Memphis, Carla Thomas. The legendary singer of "Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)" turns 62 years young tomorrow, with her gorgeous voice intact and a beautiful spirit besides.

Yesterday was Cicely Tyson's birthday (see above). She spent it being serenaded by the kids at a performing arts school named for her in East Orange, N.J.

There was a lot of gossip at the long table on Friday night at Emilio Ballato's hidden and hot eponymous Italian eatery at Mott and Houston. You know, his best clients are Lenny Kravitz, Jack Nicholson and Nicole Kidman.

Here's a riddle I heard -- see if you can figure it out:

Seems a songstress with a lot of PR, but not domestic success is having domestic distress. She's two-timing her powerful husband, but not necessarily with a member of the opposite sex. If you've heard this story before, all I can say is: "Play it again, Sam."

We can never get enough of these people.