Woody Allen Takes Manhattan

By Norman Weinstein, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Woody Allen Takes Manhattan


Norman Weinstein, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


There's a Woody Allen quite different from the one we've seen in films since the 1960s, and to discover this Woody Allen you need to be in Manhattan on a Monday evening.

Then Woody Allen the jazz clarinetist regularly performs with his New Orleans Jazz Band at the Carlyle Hotel. He's publicly performed in Manhattan on Mondays for a quarter century, and the music created, which is just now attracting worldwide attention, would be worthy of attention even if a star like Allen weren't involved.

Allen the jazz fan has been richly evident in his film soundtracks, where classic tunes by Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins have been showcased. When Allen portrayed the love-sick hero of his film "Manhattan" (1979), perhaps a thinly veiled portrait of himself, he cataloged reasons that made life worth living, with the recording of "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong making the list. Influenced chiefly by traditional New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis, Allen and his band - consisting of musical director and banjo player Eddy Davis, trombonist Jerry Zigmont, drummer Rob Garcia, bassist Greg Cohen, trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, and pianist Cynthia Sayer - perform a tremendously entertaining range of pop and jazz standards from a half century ago. Yet it would be wrong to consider Allen's band as a retro outfit steeped in nostalgia. What they communicate is a rowdy, loose, primitive sensibility that has less to do with re-creating Dixieland jazz and more to do with projecting a modern Manhattan form of New Orleans jazz (the rhythm is more Times Square than Congo Square), played with emotional brio.

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