Tommy Dorsey, born in 1905, was an immensely talented jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer and big band leader. His brother, Jimmy, born in the following year, was an equally talented jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and big band leader in his own right. Together they reached the pinnacle of success as co-leaders of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra until a falling out between them prompted Tommy to walk out in 1935 to form his own band. And so the brothers re-climbed the heights, this time each on his own with his own band. After a decade of estrangement, the brothers ultimately reconciled: Jimmy joined his brother’s band which became known as “Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra Featuring Jimmy Dorsey.” Upon Tommy’s death in 1956, Jimmy assumed leadership of the band but his leadership was short-lived: Jimmy died in 1957, less than seven months after his brother passed away.
Pete and Will Anderson, twin brothers who are very musically talented in their own right – they both play the saxophone, clarinet and flute and co-led the Anderson Brothers Sextet – are now channeling the Dorsey brothers in their unusual multi-media work The Anderson Twins Play The Fabulous Dorseys, premiering at 59E59 Theaters. Against a backdrop of videoclips from the once popular “What’s My Line” TV show in which the Dorseys appeared as mystery guests and the United Artists 1947 fictionalized biographical film,” The Fabulous Dorseys,” in which Tommy and Jimmy play themselves, Pete and Will Anderson lead a terrific jazz sextet in reprising many of the classics that the Dorseys had played in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Bantering over their differing jazz interpretations and styles, Pete and Will also exhibit their own simulated sibling rivalry in an attempt to bring to life the passions and attitudes that motivated the Dorseys in the last century.
As far as the music goes, this is one terrific show. Both Pete and Will are outstanding on all three of the instruments they play: saxophone, clarinet, and flute. And they are backed up by four other very talented musicians: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Ehud Asherie on piano, Devin Dorn on drums, and Clovis Nicolas on bass. I was especially impressed by Jon-Erik’s trumpet-playing and Ehud’s virtuosity on the piano. But so far as everything else about this production goes – the TV and movie video-clips, the artificially created similarity between the Dorseys and the Andersons, the dialog on stage – well, not so much. Indeed, I don’t think anything would have been lost had the show simply consisted of this Anderson Brothers Sextet playing a variety of Dorsey Brothers classics, without the schtick.
The space at 59E59 Theaters in which this show is performed has been reconfigured as a cabaret with too many audience members crammed into uncomfortable seats around small tables in too small a space. Again, simple tiered seating might not have been as clever or creative but it sure would have been more comfortable. But enough of my nit-picking. When all is said and done, despite my complaints about the show’s structure or the theatre itself, the jazz musical performances themselves are so good that nothing else really matters. If you’re into jazz, this is one show worth seeing.