Successful Debut for JAZZ Members Orchestra Subscription Series
By Sue Markle
The opener for their subscription series was a smashing success. In their own twentieth year, the Jazz Members Orchestra paid tribute to George Gershwin’s 100th anniversary with a concert of his music in various forms. The first half, a full hour, was based on the Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald recording of PORGY AND BESS, complete with the required string section. Vocalist Freida Lee vigorously sang all the key songs (originally sung by Bess, Porgy, or Sportin’Life), a full-hour, non-stop effort far beyond what would be required in a stage production or a recording studio, with obligato from George Bean’s trumpet. The stunning performance was loudly cheered.
The second half of the concert, while almost exclusively Gershwin, presaged upcoming concerts, showing off the flexibility of this magnificent band. Strings, Jeff Lindberg promised, will be returning in Concert #3, a tribute to "Bird with Strings." A version of "Love Walked In" arranged for the University of North Texas Jazz Lab Band had a Kenton-ish flavor, anticipating the Concert #2 tribute to Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Wild enthusiasm greeted their sterling performance of the Strayhorn/Ellington, "Rhapsody in Blue," pointing to Concert #4 and the 100th anniversary tribute to Duke in April. And the rendition of "Strike Up the Band", a Sammy Nestico arrangement for Count Basie, not only closed the concert on a rousing note but also suggested we’d all want to be at the closer of this well-designed series, Concert #5, dedicated to Count Basie. This is definitely a skilled repertory band capable of covering all these bases.
The Harold Washington Library Auditorium is one of the best venues I’ve savored for such a concert—the sound is fine, the sight lines are fine, the back row is up close, the seats are very comfortable—what else do you require? Yes, it’s easy to get to, too—from almost anywhere in the metropolitan area. But the public’s public space is probably the source of an amusing side issue which roiled the waters a bit. The Tribune on Friday listed the concert as a free offering (probably because of its Library location), apologized for the error on Saturday, and listed the same free information in Sunday’s paper. A few Chicagoans were taken in, again probably because of location. It's hoped that nobody went home in bad humor after such a concert. Trying to make it with a jazz subscription series is hard enough work without people getting a bad taste from a situation beyond the band's control; and this series certainly is the right band at the right time with the right ideas
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