NIGHTCLUBS: Storyteller

On Mondays a grand and gentle countrywoman drives her station wagon south out of hill-and-meadow farmland. Half an hour or so from her 30-acre estate in Chatham, N.Y., she crosses the outer trenches of Commuterland and hums down the Taconic State Parkway toward Manhattan. Nightclub Singer Mabel Mercer is headed for the East 50s, a neighborhood that has cloistered her special talent for nearly 20 years.

At work in the King Arthur Room, a Broadway-Tudor subdivision of a jazz nightclub called the Roundtable, 59-year-old Mabel Mercer sits with uncompromising posture on the edge of a straight-backed chair, and sings in...

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