Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: "Big Band Holidays" - New York City Article
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“Big Band Holidays”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, artistic director, Wynton Marsalis.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street, 5th Floor, (212) 721 6500
Wednesday (December 19) through Sunday Afternoon (December 23) 2PM
As Jazz at Lincoln Center majordomo Wynton Marsalis puts it, this show “puts you a little deeper into the holiday spirit.” Personally speaking, I’ve attended all of the holiday concerts mounted by JALC over the last 30 years, and this latest edition, masterminded by saxophonist Victor Goines, may be the most enjoyable of them all. Firstly, the orchestra, and it’s gifted roster of arranger-composer-instrumentalists, is more inspired than ever. They’ve devised fresh and swinging interpretations of the songs we expect, like Mr. Marsalis’s jazz waltz arrangement of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and some we don’t, such as Mr. Goines’s clever take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which cannily spotlights the two lowest voices in the ensemble, baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela and bassist Carlos Henriquez. The only vintage chart is the Count Basie version of “Jingle Bells,” the work of the legendary Ernie Wilkins, and the orchestra turns it into a 10-minute extravaganza.
But while the whole orchestra is at its formidable best, the stars of the evening are the two vocalists, both recent winners of the Thelonious Monk Competition, Veronica Swift and Vuyo Satoshe, both in their mid-’20s. Ms. Swift has a stunningly cool tone that will remind you of her idols, Anita O’Day and June Christy, and a gift for wordless improvisation that makes her one of the few contemporary scat singers you actually want to hear; she swings like crazy on Kay Starr’s contribution to the Christmas repertory, “The Man with the Bag.” The South African-born Mr. Satoshe invokes the perfect enunciation and intonation of Nat King, and has a deeply spiritual sound that comes to the fore on “What Child is This.” They both shine on a rather radical rethinking of “Silent Night” that leans heavily into New Orleans-funk - and reveals the hitherto unknown Delta blues guitar style of James Chirillo.
I originally opted not to cover or review this concert, great as it is, because tickets are almost impossible to get - even though JALC is doing five performances. However, the organization is live streaming this on the last night, and it’s worth gathering the whole mishpooker together to huddle around the computer and experience this at home on the afternoon of eve of Christmas eve. Along with Freddy Cole at Birdland and Norm Lewis (followed by Michael Feinstein) at 54 Below / Feinstein’s, this is the some of the best music you will hear in many a holiday.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)