The rhythm was absolutely fascinating at the Rose Theater over this past weekend as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by its virtuoso artistic director Wynton Marsalis--the Pied-Piper trumpeter of America's signature musical art form--reinvigorated the George Gershwin songbook with all its ragtime and stride-piano splendor.
Gershwin may have been one of the progenitors of the Jazz Age, but he is remembered mostly for his popular songs and Broadway show tunes ("Embraceable You") and orchestral compositions ("Rhapsody in Blue"), many of which were steeped in the improvisational time signatures of jazz--but, unlike the manic chord changes of "I Got Rhythm," were not actually jazz.
But that's not true when Marsalis and his merry band of Dixieland tricksters took the Gershwin classics and reinterpreted them into the swinging, groove melodies and blue note harmonies of a genuine jazz concert. The Rose Theater was bathed in the echoes of another era, when swing was king and big brass bands and New Orleans jazz found common ground in New York. It was as thrilling to watch and toe-tap as it was to simply listen and marvel at how Gershwin's Tin Pan Alley days led to this majestic evening at the Rose Theater.
Our Love Is Here To Stay: The George Gershwin Songbook, was co-directed by Victor Goines, a tenor saxophonist and longtime Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member, and Chris Crenshaw, a trombonist who, along with Vincent Gardner (who also sang) and Elliot Mason, made sure that their trombones, so often consigned to the blue collar section of the orchestra, finally received their due. The audience was reminded that Gershwin's music could dispense with violins and depend instead on big brass sounds and not miss a beat. Goines and Crenshaw introduced each song with lively anecdotes about the Gershwin brothers, including the musicals and movies in which the songs first appeared, and who performed them.
For a couple of musicians, Goines and Crenshaw made for charming emcees.
There were some wonderful improvisational solos by bassist Carlos Henriques, especially on "They Can't Take That Away From Me," alto saxophonist Sherman Irby on "But Not For Me," and a stirring sax instrumental from Goines on "Summertime" from Porgy & Bess.
It was a treat to hear the orchestral masterpiece "Rhapsody in Blue" all jazzed up, and an early ragtime song from the Gershwin catalog, "Rialto to Ripples." Many of the Gershwin classics were performed with fresh arrangements, some by members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra itself.
It was an elegant evening befitting the man who has come to personify the velvety jazz cool of the Roaring Twenties. Gershwin would have been enchanted by what Marsalis and his instrumentalist friends had done with his music. And for a moment, the hip-hop haze of this millennium, with its beat-boxing and pilfered sampling, was drowned out by the magic of pure musicianship performed at the Rose Theater.
Sensational nights of memorable music have become a ritual at Jazz at Lincoln Center, a true jewel of the New York cultural arts scene. With Greg Scholl as its Executive Director, and Marsalis, the soul of the American jazz scene, providing the artistry and marquee name, this is one New York City attraction that is becoming more relevant each year it rolls out its roster of sumptuous performances.