Thursday, August 22, 2019

SONGBOOK SUMMIT 2019: The Andersons Play Louis Armstrong at Symphony Space

The Anderson twins.  Photo by Lynn Redmile.
We have been privileged to have attended many of the Anderson twins’ concerts devoted to the lives and music of individual musicians - including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy Van Heusen, and Duke Ellington – and we have thoroughly enjoyed them all.  But last night’s performance of Songbook Summit 2019: The Andersons Play Louis Armstrong at Peter Norton Symphony Space's Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre on Broadway and 95th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was in a class of its own.  This was a truly memorable performance of the work of one of the worlds' greatest entertainers and jazz ambassadors and it rose head and shoulders above all of the Anderson twins’ other performances, wonderful as they all were.

I’m not really sure why that should have been the case.  I don’t think that it was due to the performances of Peter and Will Anderson themselves: while the twin virtuosos on the tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, and flute performed brilliantly in their paean to Louis Armstrong, they do so consistently, so I don’t think it was that.  The twins were very ably accompanied by Rossano Sportiello on piano, Paul Wells on drums, and Vince Giordano on string bass, bass sax, tuba, and vocals and those three were all equally terrific but then, so too were their counterparts - Jeb Patton on piano, Chuck Redd on drums and vibraphone, Neal Miner on bass, and Molly Ryan on vocals – who performed at last week’s concert, Songbook Summit 2019: The Andersons Play Duke Ellington, so I don’t think it was that either.

Mike Davis.  Photo by Jean Kratochvil.

At least part of it may be attributable to the performance of Mike Davis, the extraordinary young trumpet player, who was brought in at the last minute to substitute for Jon-Erik Kellso whose scheduled flight from Switzerland to America had been delayed.  Nothing can be more vital to a concert celebrating the life and work of Louis Armstrong than the band’s trumpet player so I had a moment of trepidation when I heard that Mr. Kellso wouldn’t be there and that the young Mr. Davis would be filling in for him. 

My concerns were quickly alleviated.  Mr. Davis performed absolutely brilliantly and it is hard to imagine how Mr. Kellso, or anyone else for that matter, could have done any better.  Indeed, I count myself truly fortunate in having had this opportunity to attend a Mike Davis’ performance.

A second factor that might help to explain why this concert, Songbook Summit 2019: The Andersons Play Louis Armstrong, was so spectacular relates to Louis Armstrong himself.  The Anderson twins’ Songbook Summit concerts are not just musical performances but include entertaining narrations by Will Anderson relating to each musician’s life, accompanied by expressive video presentations and Al Hirschfeld illustrations.  And the story of Louis Armstrong’s life was so remarkable that it lent itself to the most entertaining of narrations and video presentations.

Born to a fifteen year old girl who turned to prostitution to support her family, Armstrong was abandoned by his father, growing up in a New Orleans neighborhood so dangerous that it was known as “The Battlefield.”  He dropped out of elementary school and was incarcerated at the age of eleven for 18 months in the Colored Waifs’ Home for having shot a blank into the air on New Year’s Eve   Yet he surmounted the most difficult of obstacles and went on to become an icon of the jazz world and to influence performers and musical genres as diverse as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues.

Songbook Summit 2019: The Andersons Play Louis Armstrong begins with a rendition of “Muskrat Ramble,” written by Kid Ory and first recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, a tune which went on to become the group’s most frequently recorded piece.  The show continues with exceptional performances (among others) of “St. James Infirmary,” "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "Potato Head Blues," "Swing That Music," “What a Wonderful World”  and, of course, "Hello Dolly."

Songbook Summit 2019: The Andersons Play Louis Armstrong is only scheduled to run through August 23 so there’s scarcely any time left to see it.  But we sure urge you to make the effort.  You won’t regret it.

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