Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Repertory Jazz Review: Living Performances of Music History

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Repertory Jazz Review: Living Performances of Music History

Article excerpt

Repertory Jazz Review

Living Performances of Music History

By Bob Reny

The Artie Shaw Orchestra A Modern Band in Shaw's Clothing Blues Alley Jazz Club, Washington DC March 19, 2007

The Artie Shaw Orchestra led by veteran swing-bop clarinetist Dick Johnson, roared into Blues Alley in one of its rare DC appearances and gave a full house its money's worth of big band jazz.

While Johnson plays a number of Shaw's arrangements, he also includes other material and the solos are bright and modern. Personnel are an appealing mixture of experienced and young musicians. Case in point: Johnson has over fifty years of involvement with big bands while the authorized Orchestra's pianist, Tom McEvoy, just twenty-six, is a recent but invaluable addition to the mix. Curiously, no vocalist was used on this club date, but one is usually added for dance engagements.

Johnson exudes leadership. Sporting a mane of silver hair like some benign lion, he moves gently around the bandstand, pointing at performers, punching out gestures of approval and identifying each soloist. The musicians, particularly the younger ones, shine when recognized. From their facial expressions, they're obviously having a ball playing this kind of jazz under Johnson's direction. And this joy spills out over the room, giving the music more emotional impact on the listeners.

This orchestra is saucy but disciplined with the kind of tight, ringing section work that marked the best of Shaw's bands. Its arrangements are exciting of course, leaving lots of room for the talented soloists to blow. And Dick Johnson's clarinet playing, whether swinging or bopping, remains impressive. It's an unforgettable band to see and hear, with appeal across the age spectrum as reflected by Monday's diverse audience.

The band opened with Shaw's shrieking, haunting theme, Nightmare, which closed on a number apropos the gig being in the nation's capital, America the Beautiful. And there was much variety of selections in between. Of course distinctly Shavian delights were there, including Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, Moonglow, The Carioca, Begin The Beguine, Concerto For Clarinet, and Frenesi. These were the original charts by Jerry Gray, Lennie Heyton and Artie himself, but with the modern flexibility of interpretation that Shaw recognized would be necessary when he crowned Johnson to take the band back on the road. …

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