Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Leonard Bernstein at 100 - Will's New York Nite Life

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis:
Leonard Bernstein at 100

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Leonard Bernstein at 100

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, artistic director, Wynton Marsalis:
“Leonard Bernstein at 100”
Rose Theater
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street, 5th Floor, (212) 721 6500
Through Saturday (November 11)

We’re way ahead of the actual centennial date (August 25, 2018) but with this week’s three-night run of “Leonard Bernstein at 100” the big birthday celebrations for this great man, one of the greatest in all American music, have officially begun. To help commemorate this occasion (and also that of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s own 30th anniversary), there has been some break with their own tradition, in that this concert marks a rare occasion when the orchestra is actually being conducted - and not by one of its regular playing members either . With Rich DeRosa, veteran orchestrator for the band, directing up front, the band is now able to pull off a lot of music with tempo and mood changes that would otherwise be impossible. Empowered with Mr. DeRosa’s own excellent arrangements and those of trombonist Vincent Gardner, this made for one of the most satisfying evenings in the organization’s now three-decade history.
Early in the show, it seemed like Mr. DeRosa’s charts tended to be more post-modernistic and while Mr. Gardner’s were more old school. The opener, “Tonight,” immediately reminded us of Stan Kenton’s classic interpretation of the score to West Side Story, with its shiny dissonances and Ted Nash’s bold soprano saxophone solo. Contrastingly, Mr. Gardner, who played in the pit orchestra of the 2003-2005 revival of Wonderful Town, offered a swinging arrangement of “It’s Love” that spotlighted Duke Ellington style wah-wah muted brass. But such distinctions were blurred by by the second half, when Mr. DeRosa gave us a treatment of “Lucky to be Me” (On the Town) deliberately styled after the fashion of Count Basie’s New Testament Band of the 1950s, it could have easily been by Neal Hefti or Ernie Wilkins. Mr. Gardner closed the first act with an ambitious and bewildering orchestral adaptation of “Conversation Piece” (Wonderful Town again) that is surely one of the most avant garde works ever essayed by the JALC Orchestra.
Apart from the show tunes - the jewels of Bernstein’s canon - the orchestra also offered challenging interpretations of selections from the composer’s classical and other works, like his first Symphony and Mass. Wynton Marsalis, who began the evening by talking about his own experiences as a 17-year-old (roughly 1977) in playing in a student orchestra conducted by Bernstein himself, has furthered Mr. Bernstein’s legacy by bringing jazz, classical and musical theater all together and putting them all on the same page.

The good news is that the JALC will give two more performances and it will hopefully be live streamed as well, details here:

photo: William Gottlieb

Author: Will Friedwald
Photography by: STEPHEN SOROKOFF

Author: Will Friedwald

Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL & VANITY FAIR, and reviews current shows for THE OBSERVER and THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of eight 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.

New Books:

THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP VOCAL ALBUMS (Pantheon Books / Random House, October 2017)

SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)