Review: Wednesday GUITAR NIGHTS Are Wonderful at Birdland

Every week, see Frank Vignola and band, plus guests du jour

By: May. 09, 2024
Review: Wednesday GUITAR NIGHTS Are Wonderful at Birdland
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If you’re one of those people working Monday through Friday with a demanding job, you might think of Wednesdays as “Hump Day,” a day you’re glad to get to—and past—so that your work week is almost over.  And some will want to celebrate surviving the toil by having something special to do on Wednesday evenings.  May I therefore recommend the weekly Guitar Night at Birdland, a cool series featuring the veteran Frank Vignola who has combined forces with so many musicians in concerts and on recordings and guides the next generation as a teacher and role model.  Depending on which week you pop in, you’ll find him with different fellow talents — some who are regulars (the usual suspects) and/or guests booked for a particular Wednesday as their schedules allow.  You can expect that the band will include pianist Ted Rosenthal and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, with either Vince Cherico or Alex Raderman on drums. It was the former on the night I came by.  They sounded great, the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming, and I liked the Vignola vibe of comfortable, cheerful modesty: He doesn’t hog the spotlight, but generously shares it with his colleagues.  Whether mellow or more energized, I loved being enveloped by the sounds in various combinations and in solos.  But, wait, there’s more!

Review: Wednesday GUITAR NIGHTS Are Wonderful at Birdland The night I attended, May 1, began with a few songs featuring special guest jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson under whose spell I have fallen more and more over the years.  Just the week before, I’d caught her bringing luster to Rodgers & Hammerstein songs as one of the singers at Songbook Sundays at Dizzy’s and was eager for an “encore.”  Among her choices with the Vignola group was a classic by that writing team that had been assigned to another chanteuse in that program, so it had also been ringing in my head all week: “It Might As Well Be Spring” from their sole score written for the big screen, 1945’s State Fair.  It got quite the frisky and unique peripatetic workout. This first section of the show also saw gracing a trio of other American standards, all three from the 1930s: Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town”; “Pennies from Heaven”; and “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” (that one provided a welcome change of pace as a wistful ballad given full serious consideration to the lyric). These four consecutive home runs were immensely satisfying jazz flights.  But, wait, there’s more!

 Violin virtuoso Tessa Lark was called up to the stage and joined the group. It was impossible not to be impressed by her skill, especially on the fleetest passages.  Things started to lean classical with her contributions, and then pianist Ted Rosenthal took a holiday from the jazz genre by dazzling us with the music of none other than Johann Sebastian Bach.  And when it was time for some Gershwin, it wasn’t one of the composer’s melodies from stage or film, but one of his grand Preludes.  It was a night of eclectic styles and versatility.  Things came full circle back to jazz for the finale, but not just one more all-American-born one.  Instead, it was a melody by Brazilian composer Luiz  Bonfá, written for the 1959 film Black Orpheus.  Everyone joined in, with Karrin Allyson returning to the stage, dividing her vocal among the Portuguese lyric, one of the English treatments about “Carnival,” and a scat section.  In the first go-round of the English one, she crooned “I sing as I play my guitar,” and on the repeat, she adjusted it, smiling and turning to the talented Frank Vignola accompanying, and pointedly smiled and gestured to him as she tweaked the line to become  “I sing as you play your guitar.”  And he sure does play it wonderfully all night.    

But, wait--there WILL be more!  Announced guests for upcoming “Guitar Nights” will be a parade of fellow guitarists, starting with Pasquale Grasso and Peter Bernstein on May 15.  Mr. Bernstein takes over as guest host on May 22, joined by Ed Cherry and his quartet-mates.  Following that, Frank Vignola is back on May 29 with James Chirillo and then, starting in June, Mike Stern is the weekly co-star, sailing into the summer.  

Find tickets to upcoming sessions of Guitar Nights, and more shows to see on Birdland's website at www.birdlandjazz.com

You can learn more about Frank Vignola on his website at www.frankvignola.com



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