The month began with a miserable April Fool’s Day on Friday, and wintry weather had been delaying spring’s arrival for too long. But 24 hours later, Saturday began to warm things up with pleasant morning sunshine embracing Manhattan. By afternoon the real heat would be in place on the stage of Broadway’s SYMPHONY SPACE Theater, as the renowned twin musicians, Peter and Will Anderson, were joined there by jazz vocalist, Molly Ryan, and yet another musical legend, Vince Giordano, director of his own popular big band, The Nighthawks. The occasion was the Anderson Twins much-anticipated celebration of the music of George Gershwin. The one-day event would have just two performances, but their wide fan base had made certain that both shows were already sold out. No one would be disappointed. Already known for a series of such programs that have focused on the various talents of Louis Armstrong, The Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, the Anderson brothers have a well-established formula for these popular concerts that includes an educational mix of projected video highlights, along with informative narration about the composers being spotlighted. Of course, the music is always central to the presentations, and the Andersons prove again and again they are very deserving of the New York Times declaring them, “Virtuosos on clarinet & saxophone.”
But the lads are not afraid to share the stage with other brilliant jazz musicians, and Miss Ryan and Mr. Giordano are frequent guests who beautifully enrich the concerts. For the Gershwin event they brought along the dazzling additional talents of Dalton Ridenhour on piano and Alex Raderman on drums to round out the sextet.
Adding to the fun for the arriving audience were projections of a variety of amusing Hirschfeld caricatures, the use of which the Andersons had been granted special permission by the Hirschfeld Foundation. Then the music itself got off to a rollicking good start with a terrific, “I Got Rhythm.” That moved on to a smokey start for, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” as the twins offered a virtual counterpoint duel, pitting saxophone against clarinet while exploring that theme in exciting ways. The countless ways Gershwin penetrated popular culture were in evidence with short video clips from such unexpected sources as “The Muppets” and “The Simpsons.” We learned how Gershwin’s original enthusiasm for the music of Chopin and Liszt was eventually channeled into his considerable gifts as a songwriter for Tin Pan Alley, even publishing his first song at the tender age of seventeen, before eventually moving on to conquer the worlds of radio, symphony concert halls, Broadway, and Hollywood. The latter was nicely represented here with merry video clips from Gershwin film successes like Girl Crazy. Along the way we learn of his admiration for Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin, and of his collaborations with brother, Ira Gershwin, on such projects as their first Broadway show, “Lady Be Good.” Meanwhile, the lovely Miss Ryan offered a breezy and delightful, “Fascinating Rhythm,” and then showed her skill as a gentle storyteller with, “Someone to Watch Over me,” from Gershwin’s 1926 show, “Oh, Kay!” And speaking of “Girl Crazy,” her rhythmic and Latin-flavored performance of, “But Not for Me,” from that film was yet another treat.
The ensemble’s performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” was beautifully woven together by a thrilling piano performance from Riddenhour, and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess was another showcase for the group’s many talents. Giordano, by the way, when not skillfully slapping the strings on his “aluminum” bass, has some rare oversize instruments, including an enormous tuba and a huge saxophone, both of which he gleefully plays very well to the delight of the audience. He had the enormous tuba on full display as the group joined forces for, “’S Wonderful.” The twins danced through elaborate arrangements on clarinet and saxophone for that number, accompanied by the bouncing delight of Ridenhour on the eighty-eight. His piano skill would soon be on display again with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of, “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”
There was a brief moment of audience let down as it learned the sad news that the brilliant George Gershwin was to die in his prime of a brain tumor at the age of 38. But spirits lifted as it was then announced from the stage that the Andersons next Symphony Space event is planned for August 13th, and will celebrate the life, work and music of Henry Mancini. See you there!
For tickets or further information about SYMPHONY SPACE events, email email@example.com, call 212-864-5400, visit the website at http://www.SymphonySpace.org, or stop by the box office at 2537 Broadway at 95th St., New York, NY 10025-6990
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: http://www.ThePeoplesCritic.com
E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com