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BWW Review: Michael Feinstein's SING ME A SWING SONG Breezes, Bounces and Bows at Jazz at Lincoln Center


Jazz at Lincoln Center's 2016 Popular Song series at the Appel Room ended this year's agenda on June 8 with host Michael Feinstein's appreciation of the interconnection between swing and popular song, a subject about which he's clearly enthusiastic. Each musical era, he suggests, is previewed by a song marking change: "Alexander's Ragtime Band" ushered in ragtime, "Sing, Sing Sing," prefaced swing, "Rock Around the Clock" heralded rock n' roll.

With the able assistance of Musical Director Tedd Firth (also on piano), Firth's Big Band, and special guest vocalists Allyson Briggs, Jeremy Jordan, and Catherine Russell, Feinstein and Co. delivered a lively evening of familiar and eclectic material.

A jitterbug instrumental "Lady Be Good" (George and Ira Gershwin) primes us for Feinstein's tandem renditions of "I Never Knew" (Gus Kahn/Ted Fiorito) and "I Found a New Baby" (Jack Palmer/ Spencer Williams), the latter written for Ethel Waters. Rhythm is easy here. Swing includes both "kinetic" up-tempo numbers and syncopated ballads, less easily identifiable as belonging to the genre.

It was a period when many bandleaders wrote hit songs. Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" is performed as a cottony ballad, sincere and serious with just a touch of sensitive clarinet. Musical brush strokes broaden as Freddie Hendrix wields his superb trumpet. I see your face in every flower/Your eyes in stars above Feinstein croons prettily, going up an octave on your eyes.

Guest Allyson Briggs (right) looks and sounds like the 1940s, often organically singing double octave notes. The statuesque vocalist offers a bright, clear, straight from the hip "How About You?" (Burton Lane/Ralph Freed from Babes on Broadway), stringing lyrics together, eschewing line breaks. A classic arrangement of Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" shows Briggs's full, polished, confident range.

Broadway's Jeremy Jordan (left) launches into "That Old Black Magic" (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) as if he cut his teeth on swing. Riffing with repetition, pause, and elongation of lyrics, Jordan has an infectiously good time. "Cry Me a River" (Arthur Hamilton, written for Ella Fitzgerald) emerges like a satin ribbon. The actor presents an effective image of contained revenge. A decidedly un-swing duet version of "I'm Nothing Without You" (Cy Coleman/David Zippel from City of Angels) finds Feinstein and Jordan vocally robust and well balanced.

Catherine Russell (below), a worthy Jazz at Lincoln Center favorite, opens with Louis Prima's "Swing It, Brother, Swing": Deep rhythm can't deface me/Hot rhythm stimulates me/Can't help but swing it, boy/Swing it brother, swing! From phrasing to attitude, the artist has it down. We feel as if back in time, watching rhythm move subtly through this great performer. Andy Farber's mellow, zigzagging sax comes out to play.

Farber's arrangement of "Deed I Do" (Fred Rose/Walter Hirsch) follows with warm, muted vocal. Oh hah-uh-uhnny (oh honey), Russell sings with utter engagement. Feinstein and Russell complete her set with a richly arranged duet of "You Go To My Head" (J. Fred Coots/ Haven Gillespie). Warren Vache's beautiful trumpet shadows, solos, and closes with a cursive flourish.

Feinstein returns for "I Gotta Be Me" (Walter Marks from Golden Rainbow), in another decidedly un-swing rendition, this one reflective rather than familiarly demonstrative. And Charles DeForest's breezy "One Day At a Time." After thanks are expressed, the company closes with a punchy "I've Got the World on a String" (Harold Arlen/ Ted Koehler). Effervescent feelings pervade.

Michael Feinstein begins next year's Jazz and Popular Song series with an exploration of the artistry of quintessential crooner Nat "King" Cole on April 5-6, 2017 in The Appel Room.

Photos by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center

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