Down to the bone jazz aficionados were treated to an extraordinary evening of music and dance when MUSE/IQUE Artistic Director Rachael Worby showcased how symphony man Leonard Bernstein became champion and spokesperson for America’s art form. The event both sizzled and soothed. As Worby said, he preached the gospel of jazz.” Assisting her on Saturday, August 8, 2015 were the wildly talented MUSE/IQUE musicians, versatile vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and Choreographer Kitty McNamee and her ensemble of dancers featuring Chelsea Paige Johnston and Marlon Pelano.
Middle in Worby’s triptych of concerts dedicated to multi-faceted Bernstein, highlights included a video clip of Duke Ellington who wrote symphonic jazz in conversation with Bernstein who wrote jazz symphonies, the band’s performance of Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Bridgewater’s soulful rendition of George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day in London Town” and Bernstein’s “2nd Prelude” which he wrote immediately upon learning that his idol, Gershwin, had passed.
Not everyone knows that Bernstein composed a ballet score for Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” that included the blues ballad “Big Stuff.” “Big Stuff” became a signature song for Billie Holliday and Bridgewater channeled “Lady Day” when she sang it. In a different incarnation, the ballet turned musical, “On the Town,” with playwrights Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is now in revival on Broadway.
Backing Bridgewater for many of her numbers were a tight jazz trio composed of keyboardist Alan Shapiro on drum set and bassist Mike Valerio. Worby remarked on Valerio’s joyful countenance as he played.
On the cool summer evening Peter Knell premiered his hot and energetic new composition, “Recharged.” With a decided modern jazz feel, this evocative piece could well have been part of the soundtrack for a Hitchcock film.
Bernstein only wrote one film score for Elia Kazan’s Academy Award-winning “On the Waterfront.” Jazz-infused, it opens with a tone poem which was included in the concert’s innovative and sublime grand finale, combining live music, DJ mixes, with water effects visual design from Caltech’s creative designers and exquisite dancing.
Reviewer’s note: I came to Beckman Mall troubled in mind and heart that evening, but the “On the Waterfront” finale lifted me. Arrangement, musicians, the water boys, the mix, and oh, oh, oh the dancers! Music, art and dance are healing. I believe this performance was transcendent for more than one audience member that night.
Jazz music has a deep and ever-growing canon. There is so much to be plumbed and for all those jazz lovers who were in the audience on August 8 and those who were not, hopefully Worby and her orchestra will present another such show next summer!
Rusnak Audi Summer of Sound 2015 ends Planet Bernstein with In/Side Story on Saturday, August 29. This counter-conventional tribute to “West Side Story” includes favorite songs from the pivotal musical, poetry, dance and the music of other great artists.
Tickets range from $20 to $250 with MUSE/IQUE members getting the best seat locations and discounts. Call 626-539-7085 or visit www.muse-ique.org/events.
Rusnak Audi Summer of Sound is held at Caltech’s Beckman Mall Lawn, located at 332 S. Michigan Avenue in Pasadena. Parking is free.