Category: Music

I believe in love

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

Another summer Sunday, another street fair.  This one was just a preview of the larger Columbus Avenue Festival which will be taking place on September 21, 2008 between 66th and 86th Streets.

After a late May visit to Central Park’s Delacorte Theater for Hamlet, we continued the summer streak with Shakespeare in the Park’s second production: Hair.  This time, it was SYB who scored a pair of tickets through the Public’s virtual line.  (No Craigslist for us.)

The landmark rock musical was presented here (also for free) last September in a concert staging to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its debut at the Public Theater’s inaugural 1967 season. The music by Galt MacDermot, with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, is notable as an era-defining soundtrack, but remain familiar to the Flower Children’s children through television commercials… and the closing credits of The 40 Year Old Virgin.

The Public’s impassioned artistic director Oskar Eustis, profiled in The Times in June, introduced tonight’s performance by underscoring the continuing relevance of Hair’s anti-Vietnam War anthems by drawing parallels with our current “unpopular war abroad” — a sentiment greeted by enthusiastic applause.

(As for the connection to Shakespeare, one need look no further than the song “What a Piece of Work is Man,” which draws almost entirely from Hamlet’s famous speech.)

Joyous performances by a diverse and wildly charismatic cast (under the direction of Diane Paulus), the 12-piece on-stage band, that famous flash of group nudity… Although Hair is in structure little more than a revue with just the wispiest suggestion of a storyline, this is one situation where the whole truly is more than the sum of its quaintly dated parts. And how about “the duo of hotness” that is Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson? (Groff is best known for his Tony-nominated role as Melchior Gabor in Broadway’s Spring Awakening;  Christopher J. Hanke took over the role of Claude on August 17 and will remain through the show’s extended September 14 run, replacing Groff, who had a prior commitment.)

Check out the lauding reviews from New York magazine, The Post, Variety, Time Out New York, and The Times.

From the opening “Aquarius” to the plaintive “Let The Sun Shine In” finale, it seemed at times that half of those in attendance were singing along with the performers.  When the show reached its explosive conclusion, and the entire audience was invited on stage for a riotous dance with the actors and musicians, we could not help but be swept up in the Summer of Love… or at least the 2008 approximation of it.

Flickr preview: Labor Day at the U.S. Open, 4th Round, featuring Andy Murray and Serena Williams, both of whom advanced to the semis.  Also: cast members from HBO’s Entourage.

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Lunchtime doo-wop

Thursday, July 31st, 2008 | All Things, Music

Throughout the years, I end up at my share of evening musical performances, but for sheer value and variety, it’s difficult to beat the free weekday afternoon recitals. The Financial District, especially, is full of options: Trinity Church’s Concerts at One and the Juilliard Artists at 180 Maiden Lane are just a couple of the more popular options. And in my own office building, the Woodhill Players perform lunch hour concerts in the historic lobby Tuesdays and Thursday during the summer.

The World Financial Center hosts a series of noontime concerts as part of the River to River Festival and this afternoon’s featured act was The Persuasions, the self-proclaimed “deans of streetcorner singing.” The weekend before, the a cappella group performed here as part of “The Big River Project: The Music of Johnny Cash” — a week-long celebration of The Man in Black’s music. (Where was Cash impersonator extraordinaire Vince Mira?)

The quintet began as boys singing on the streets of Bed-Stuy in 1962. They were discovered after sending a demo tape to Frank Zappa in 1968, who signed them to his Bizarre Records label. Later, the group recorded a tribute album to Zappa’s music, and went on to cover other such varied acts as The Grateful Dead, The Beatles and U2.

The blazing summer sun drove us inside the climate-controlled Winter Garden, from which we caught snippets of The Persuasion’s classic doo-wop, R&B and pop music repertoire as it came in from the Plaza. I recognized “Come Go With Me” and “Lean on Me”. At one point, SYB asked, “Isn’t that ‘Under the Boardwalk’?”

Through the glass, it all sounded a little like “Under the Boardwalk“.

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I like a Gershwin tune

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

In Nelson A. Rockefeller Park at the North end of Battery Park City, where singer Patti Austin was performing the music of George and Ira Gershwin as part of the summer’s River to River Festival.

I grew up on classic studio films and Hollywood musicals, which probably makes me more familiar with the Great American Songbook than my fellow Gen-X and younger cohorts, many of whom associate the songs with cocktail lounges, wedding receptions, and um… movies starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Nowadays, artists like Peter Cincotti, Michael Bublé and (still, sometimes) Harry Connick, Jr. carry on the torch for a new generation… though I don’t know that their fan bases would be considered particularly youthful.

The GAS was the soundtrack of American life for more than half a century, and pre-1960 recordings abound. In this decade, Rod Stewart recorded four volumes of the Songbook, but my recommendation to those looking for a primer is decidedly more old school than Rod the Mod: Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbooks. All eight of the studio albums comprising the series were re-released as a box set by Verve in 1993.

In February, Austin won the Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy for her tribute album, Avant Gershwin — 53 years and 16 albums after landing her first record contract at the age of 5. She harbors no ill will for her late-career recognition, though she did publicly thank Elvis Costello for knocking up “that b*tch Diana Krall” (who owns Grammys for both Best Jazz Vocal Album and Jazz Vocal Performance.)

From the stage facing the Hudson, Austin wowed the crowd with jazzed up versions of classics like “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise,” “Funny Face,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”

The man who only lives for making money
Lives a life that isn’t necessarily sunny;
Likewise the man who works for fame —
There’s no guarantee that time won’t erase his name.
The fact is
The only work that really brings enjoyment
Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant.
Fall in love — you won’t regret it.
That’s the best work of all, if you can get it.

— “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” George and Ira Gershwin (1937)

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