Showing posts with label Broadway. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Broadway. Show all posts

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sondheim Side by Side with Cecil and Mays

My favorite bass player, David Einhorn, knowing my love of Sondheim, gifted me Our Time, Tommy Cecil and Bill Mays’ incredible jazz interpretation of Sondheim’s work.  As it is indicated as “Volume 2” I was able to find their first CD of Sondheim’s music, appropriately called Side by Side.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a “plug” for anything in this space, but I make an exception for these two CDs. (Amazon carries both.)

Tommy Cecil and Bill Mays

They take the beautiful and frequently complex music of Sondheim to another level (although some of the pieces Sondheim was only the lyricist), probably the most unique jazz pieces I’ve ever heard.  It is an equal partnership between a gifted bassist and pianist.  We’ve seen Bill Mays at the Colony on Palm Beach, intended to go back this year, but learned that the Colony had cancelled his brunch gigs on Sunday, probably due to financial considerations.  He is perhaps one of the best jazz pianists at work today.

No drummer is necessary for this pair. In fact a drummer would interfere with their accomplishment, a unique collaboration of two gifted musicians, their voicing and rhythm just perfect.

Before these two CDs I had collected a series of Sondheim jazz albums by the Terry Trotter Trio, the only such authorized renditions by the great man himself, Stephen Sondheim.  I listen to them frequently but now I’m fixated on the innovative work of Cecil and Mays. Here are the tracks from the two CDs:

Side By Side (Sondheim Duos)

1 Something's Coming 7:09
2 Not While I'm Around 6:25
3 Broadway Baby 8:00
4 Every Day a Little Death 6:10
5 Ballad of Sweeney Todd 4:50
6 Small World 6:52
7 Side By Side By Side 5:27
8 Anyone Can Whistle 6:28
9 Comedy Tonight 7:06

Our Time (Sondheim Duos 2)

1 Everybody Says Don't  5:33
2 Johanna 3:44
3 Our Time5:59  
4 Moments in the Woods 6:09
5 Finishing the Hat 4:48
6 The Miller's Son 5:55  
7 Losing My Mind 4:19
8 The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened 5:44
9 Agony 6:05
10 Being Alive 5:44
11 Rich and Happy 6:08

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hamilton Hip Hops into Broadway History

Ann and I once again boarded the New Haven train to NYC, this time to see Hamilton.

It’s everything that has been written and said about the show, probably the most talked about Broadway musical prior to its opening in history.  No sense repeating the story here about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius in putting together the most original Broadway musical since, perhaps, Oklahoma.  As with Oklahoma, Hamilton breaks all the rules, but similar to its predecessor, it uses dance, music, acting, and a fine “book” to move the action along.  The action is explosive, a constant pulse measuring the beginning of our nation, the meaning of compromise, and the contributions of immigrants, particularly the Caribbean born Hamilton.

This nation’s historical founders are played by minorities in period customs, singing history through the medium of rap and hip hop, where the copious dialogue springs to life.  There are very few speaking parts, and that factor as well as the staging, the subject of revolution, and some of the love songs hearken back to a previous transforming musical, Les MisĂ©rables.  The reminder of the latter in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work is omnipresent.  And like “Master of the House” there is a change of pace humorous song embedded in Hamilton as well, one sung by a foppish King George entitled “You’ll Be Back,” which contrasts with the hip hop in the show.  It was sung with such a recognizable Beatles’ beat that the audience erupted into instant laughter.  Nevertheless, the other music, even for old Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim fans, was memorable. Rap songs such as “My Shot” and “The Room Where it Happens” run like leitmotifs throughout the show and get under your skin (not that I could sing them or even play them on the piano).

If I had to sum up the musical in one word, it’s pure raw energy. Never a dull moment, with many emotional ones, particularly if one has an understanding of the beginnings of this nation, as well as cautionary inferences pertaining to our own times, it is the must see show of this season, and probably many to come.  We were fortunate to be able to get tickets months and months ago when we first heard about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An American in Paris in NYC

Last Sunday we ventured into the city to see An American in Paris.  Jonathan saw the preview in Paris of all places and gave us ample advance notice of how spectacular the production was and therefore we were able to buy tickets in the third row center many months ago, perfect seats for the most stirring Broadway musical we’ve seen in recent memory. 

From the South Norwalk train station we emerged into the light at 45th and Vanderbilt.  We had a luncheon reservation at one of our favorite restaurants, Orso’s (conveniently located in NYC’s Restaurant Row between 8th and 9th Avenues on 46th), one we’ve been to on and off during the past 30 years (especially Ann who used to do Wednesday matinees with friends while I toiled away at work : - )

Normally we would walk this, but Ann’s knee has been giving her trouble, so we agreed to “Uber” there and after the show walk back to Grand Central Station when traffic would be impossible anyway.  Uber is an amazing service.  Had a Lincoln Town car picking us up in four minutes and if it were not for the delays getting past 6th Avenue because of the Dominican Republic parade, it would have been a breeze.  Still, we made it in about 12 minutes.  I love the concept of no cash trading hands and getting an email two minutes after we exit the car of the cost ($9.23).

After a delicious lunch, trout for Ann and rigatoni in meat sauce for me (wanted something more hardy – this was to serve as both lunch and dinner), we walked over to the theatre which is on a Times Square I no longer recognize, throngs of people as usual but the panorama reminded me more of Las Vegas than my beloved New York City, packed with tourists of course with the most popular hawked item being those “selfie” sticks.  We’ve become a world of solipsistic hedonists,  selfies snap away and post them on Facebook, just about the most passive act of saying, “hey, look at me!”  So while everyone was clicking away pictures of themselves, with Times Square tumult in the background, I took a few “non-selfie” shots to document the moment and we made our way to the theatre, mobs of people --- mostly tourists it seemed (I seem to forget that is our status now : - ) trying to get into just one narrow entrance. 

Sitting alone on the stage before the performance began is an older grand piano, perhaps much like the one George Gershwin might have composed on.  And that is the conceit of the play – a composer being central to the action, Adam Hochberg (a.k.a Oscar Levant) movingly played by Brandon Uranowitz.  He composes a ballet for a woman he has fallen in love with, Lise Dassin, luminously performed by Leanne Cope.  Unfortunately for him, two other men are in love with her too, Jerry Mulligan (Robert Fairchild) and Henri Baurel (Max von Essen).  Because Lise and her family were harbored by Henri’s family during the Nazi occupation of Paris, she feels honor bound to accept his proposal although her heart has clearly been lost to the artist, Jerry, who fell in love with her at first glance.  All the action takes place in post WW II Paris and of course the “book” heavily relies on the movie version of An American in Paris.

In fact, the two leads could easily pass for the two movie leads.  Robert Fairchild, the principal dancer with NYC Ballet, credits the physicality of his dancing to his idol, Gene Kelly, and Leanne Cope is highly reminiscent of Leslie Caron.  But interestingly both Fairchild and Cope are luminaries in the world of ballet, not Broadway theatre.  It is remarkable to witness the transition – even their singing roles were of Broadway caliber.  Ann and I laughed when we heard someone say there was too much ballet in the production.  The dancing was superlative, breathtaking and from our vantage we could see every drop of sweat, and could feel the incredible energy that went into the play. As for the astounding performance by Fairchild, Ann could not stop raving about the perfection of his dancing, his grand jetes, his jazz movements and energy.

Ann was particularly interested in seeing Sara Esty, a talented young dancer she has enjoyed watching from her first performance with the Miami City Ballet when she joined the company several years ago along with her twin sister.  She auditioned and won a part in the Ensemble of this show enjoying the time spent in Paris and blogging about it.  Well to our surprise, we noticed in the Playbill that in addition to this being her Broadway debut; she has been chosen to dance the lead in place of Leanne Cope on the Wednesday matinees, surely an indication of how far along her career has progressed.  Robert Fairchild has substitutes as well for the Wednesday evening and Saturday matinee performances, so we were fortunate to see the leads at our Sunday matinee.

But for me, the heart, the very soul of the production is the music of George Gershwin.  I feel I have a special affinity for his music    -- much of it is the bulk of my more confident piano repertoire.  After hearing this production I’m tempted to play only Gershwin in the future, committing pieces to memory, learning how to play his music even better.

Unlike the film, the Broadway production is far ranging as far as his music is concerned, including pieces I don’t remember in the movie, such as parts of the “Cuban Overture” and many other Gershwin songs.  

An American in Paris is a massive undertaking, even on Broadway, a full orchestra, a large cast and striking, multiple sets.  The pace was intense under the brilliant direction and choreography of Christopher Wheeldon.  During intermission while Ann went to the ladies room, I texted Jonathan my thanks for pushing us to get tickets early, beginning my text with just two words.  “Intermission.  Fabulous.”  When Ann returned to her seat she said that she texted Jonathan.  I said I did too.  She said, here, look at what I wrote and it began with two words. “Intermission. Fabulous.”
6th Ave. after Dominican Day Parade

Friday, June 20, 2014

Two Songs

As an amateur pianist, I generally focus on the “classic” period of the Great American Songbook, including Broadway, from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim.  I relate to that music, as I do to classic jazz (not the so called “smooth jazz.”) Just let me listen to a piano, bass and drums and I’m in heaven.  Think Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans and so many other wonderful jazz pianists.  A great vocalist such as a Stacey Kent is an added bonus.  And I enjoy classical music, although my ability to play classical pieces on the piano is limited to those that have been transcribed for fake books.  In effect, I have to improvise much of the music – not the intent of the likes of Beethoven, etc. 

Although my musical tastes sometimes extend to country and R&B, I do not relate to most contemporary music, some of the so called “American Idol” sound.  But I suppose I’m beginning to sound like my parents, criticizing my teenage addiction to the music sung by Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, and I could go on and on with that list.  I still enjoy occasionally listening to that music today, making me a nostalgist.  (After all, that’s what half this blog is about anyhow.)

My teenage musical “taste” gives me an opportunity to post something that’s been in my files for some 56 years now.  Why I kept it, who knows.  Maybe for this moment?  New York City’s WMCA distributed a weekly listing of the top hits at the local record stores where we would buy our 45’s. This particular one was for the week of Dec. 20, 1957.  I still can hear (in my mind) most of the “tunes” listed on this particular sheet.  Coincidentally, number 15 on the list for that week was Hey Schoolgirl sung by “Tom and Jerry.”  They were a local pair, growing up only a mile or so from me.  Never heard of them?  Later they reverted to their real names, Simon and Garfunkel.  They too tried to make a go of R&R but I don’t think any of their songs at the time rose higher than the one listed here.

I’ve tried to keep up with contemporary Broadway / West End musicals but except for Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Claude-Michel Schönberg, nothing really appeals to me. But I’ve been remiss in not seeing (yet) works such as Nine and Rent.  There is a song from each which I discovered in my fake books and I found myself playing them although I had never heard them before. 

From the more recent of the two shows, Rent, there is One Song Glory, which needs to be appreciated in the context of the lyrics and the story, but even without those, the music has a haunting leitmotif.  So I decided to make a video of my playing it, but it’s digital size is too large for the limited software that BlogSpot offers, and to my chagrin I discovered that BlogSpot’s video postings do not play on certain devices, particularly mobile ones (where the entire digital world is moving – get with it BlogSpot!), so I had to post my rendition on YouTube to play here.  There are risks doing that, opening myself for criticism – any professional knows that I am but a rank amateur, but that doesn’t matter to me, I still enjoy playing.

Unlike the other videos I’ve done its close up.  This is not because I’m wild about my hands.  After all, they are, together, 142 years old! : - ).  But the sound was better with my little digital camera nearer to the piano. One Song Glory is a genre outside my traditional classic Broadway comfort zone.  In other words, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but sometimes we have to forge into new territory….

The musical structure of Growing Tall, from Nine, on the other hand (no pun intended), is closer to the traditional Broadway musical, so I’m more relaxed playing this piece.  Its digital size is within the parameters of BlogSpot, so I can bypass YouTube (although it may render it unplayable on some devices, sorry).  Getting Tall is a very evocative conceit, the younger self counseling the mature version of the same person. 
Learning more, knowing less,
Simple words, tenderness part of getting tall.

Hopefully, that tenderness comes across….