Founded by Molly Ryan and Bria Skonberg in 2015, The NY Hot Jazz Camp, held not in tents or bunks, but at Greenwich House Music School, presents an opportunity for both young people and adults (separately) to learn from some of the best artists in the community, to meet like-minded musicians, and to be broadly exposed to a genre epitomized by such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. This year’s session ends with a knock-out two hour concert at Birdland. If you want to feel better about the world, listen to these performers. (Personnel below)
“Royal Garden Blues” (Spencer Williams) sounds like anything but. Jesse Gelber’s stylish piano has clarity and clout, surprising power in curved fingering; Jim Fryer bends forward from the knees, back from the waist, then swivels (like the music), his trombone an extra limb; Randy Reinhart takes curves on cornet like a luge; Nick Russo’s guitar is layered, resonant; Jared Engel almost lays his head on the cherished bass communing; Dan Levinson’s clarinet gleefully gambles; on drums, Kevin Dorn is upright, deadpan, arms with a life of their own…
Molly Ryan and the Band-Bria Skonberg trumpet
Portions of the band have played together for 28 years, but until tonight have never all shared a stage and are we lucky! There isn’t a weak link. Mutual admiration is palpable, symbiosis exuberant.
“What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?” (Walter Donaldson/Abe Lyman) arrives not with regret, but rather a shrug and an amble to the next adventure. Levinson’s sax is smoooth, Russo pats, plucks and strokes guitar, Engel’s bass and Fryer’s trombone converse, Reinhart’s sound zig-zags.
Vocalist Queen Esther offers Alberta Hunter’s lively “My Castle’s Rockin” and a honeyed “Your Jelly Roll is Good” …but it ain’t as good as mine…like a true storyteller with unerring attitude and silent film eyes. Later, Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” (the lady should do a Smith show) and a bottle of beer…sashays in with sinuous clarinet, rear wiggling banjo, chortling trombone, and the singer’s use of subtle wrist and hip action. Her alto is clear and strapping. Fryer’s trombone makes sarcastic comments. It’s perceptibly a voice.
Queen Esther and the Band
We’re treated to an early Tin Pan Alley number vocalist Molly Ryan calls her current mantra. “Save Your Sorrow” for tomorrow/Smile awhile today…(Buddy De Silva/Al Sherman) is the single ballad in the show. Ryan’s creamy phrasing leaves understated, vibrating trails that disappear down her throat. She makes it look effortless. Gelber’s piano scintillates with companionable appreciation.
Bria Skonberg replaces Reinhart on trumpet for Leo Wood’s “Somebody Stole My Gal.” The foot tapping, head bobbing rendition isn’t at all mournful. Skonberg’s contribution is bright, lucid and wide-stroked. Denouement is sweet, exit emphatic. “I’m going to play second trumpet to my King Oliver, she then announces referring to Oliver’s mentoring of Louis Armstrong. Face to face, or rather horn to horn, Skonberg and Reinhart joyously play (think jungle gym, seesaw, and slides) Lew Pollack’s “That’s A Plenty”. Horns are sassy, banjo stunt skates, bass draws rhythm like breath.
The evening closes with “Blues My Naughty Sweetie” featuring the mastery of nimble-fingered Levinson (also our appealingly wry MC) and Dorn’s impressive drum turn during which both Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich must be smiling. (Dorn never does.)
These consummate musicians make me want more hot jazz in my life. The audience leaves energized, beaming. What more could one ask?
Guest Banjo: Cynthia Sayers
“Our goal is to provide instruction to musicians of all skill levels, who want to further their knowledge in the styles of traditional/classic jazz in a positive and supportive environment. The curriculum pulls from jazz’s inception in New Orleans through its journey to New York and Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s and subsequent West Coast stylings.”
Opening: The Band
NY Hot Jazz Camp
May 21, 2017
315 West 44th Street
Queens born Ethel Merman (1908-1984) sang publicly from the age of nine. Completing school, determined to forge a show business career, she performed nights after full time work as a stenographer. Merman was discovered in a club, offered a contract by Paramount, and made a series of short, cookie-cutter-plotted films.
Her breakout theatrical role in “Girl Crazy” put the incipient icon at the forefront of musical theater transition from operetta to jazz-based scores. The orchestra pit of George and Ira Gershwin’s show held Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa. One review said “She can hold a note longer than The Chase Manhattan Bank.” Merman starred in 14 Broadway successes.
We learn all this during Ted Sperling’s introduction to an evening of Merman numbers almost none of which represent the spirit of the artist. When the host informs us the company will not try to impersonate the celebrant, but rather share the joy of her singing, we assume that means not imitating her vocal style.
Instead, slowed and weighted musical arrangements with dissonant instrumental solos by otherwise good musicians and two a capella choral numbers that can’t be further from the singer’s essence, make the presentation seem longer than its almost 2 ½ hours. A sing-along with lyrics projected is assigned to a complex a song and quickly loses the audience. Direction dictates that naturally animated numbers are performed almost stock still. (Several artists’ tendencies to put their hands in pockets doesn’t help.) Hard working vocalists seem tethered.
Having said that, Sperling does deliver a sense of Merman’s trajectory, her becoming a sassy broad who could hold her own with the guys, professional idiosyncrasies, and personal challenges. We’re privy to a couple of priceless film clips, some nifty anecdotes, and there are entertaining musical exceptions.
Ted Sperling, Lindsay Mendez
Lindsay Mendez, perhaps the closest reflection of La Merman not only in lung power, but in energy, pluck, and unaffected presentation, offers such as “You’re a Builder-Upper” (Ira Gershwin/EY Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen from Life Begins at 8:40)- crisply articulated and sparkling with exemplary player-piano like accompaniment and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy, a musical that was turned down by Irving Berlin) wherein some octave changes are very Merman-like, but performance is ultimately her own.
Natasha Yvette Williams gives us “Eadie Was a Lady” with spot-on instincts when to sing or speak a lyric, big eyes, rolling hips, and a bit of an appealing growl. (BG De Sylva/Nacio Herb Brown/Richard A Whiting from Take A Chance!) Cole Porter’s “Blow, Gabriel Blow” (from Anything Goes), on the other hand, is curiously bereft of exuberance until 2/3 of the way in. Undoubtedly not her fault. Williams preaches with zest and aptitude looking in audience faces.
Natasha Yvette Williams
Julia Murney’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Down in The Depths On the Ninetieth Floor” is too big and depicts misplaced sexuality. (from Red, Hot, and Blue for which contested billing was decided by printing Merman and Jimmy Durante’s names graphically crossed.) Though the vocalist has a good instrument with fine control, she overacts. “Small World,” however, accompanied only by Kevin Kuhn’s guitar, is lilting and sincere. (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy)
The excellent Charke Thorell sings a jazz-age tinted “Anything Goes” (Cole Porter from the musical of the same name) with some easy scat and a breezy, cutely directed “You’re the Top” (Cole Porter from Anything Goes) with Emily Skinner. His interpretation of “Do I Love You?” following Sperling’s description of tragedies in Merman’s life, is handicapped by clear instruction to appear inconsolable. Vocal is pristine. (Cole Porter from DuBarry Was a Lady)
Clarke Thorell, Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner’s “Some People” is pithy and clarion without over-reaching. (Stephen Sondheim/ Jule Styne from Gypsy) Her version of “A Lady Needs a Change” (Dorothy Fields/Arthur Schwartz from Stars in Your Eyes) is aply wry. The rarely performed “World Take Me Back” has just the right tone. (Jerry Herman, written for Merman in Hello Dolly, cut from the original Carol Channing version when Merman at first turned the show down.) Skinner makes lyrics authentic.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening “You Say the Nicest Things” is jauntily performed by Williams and Thoreau AS Merman and Jimmy Durante for whom the song was written. Both vocal and movement are charming. Thorell excels. (Dick Manning/Carroll Carroll- special material)
Jeffrey Klitz, Natasha Yvette Williams, Clarke Thorell
An experiment in which two “double duets” – “You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin from Call Me Madam) and “An Old Fashioned Wedding” (Berlin from Annie Get Your Gun) are sung first, separately, and then simultaneously, surprisingly works as novel discovery. Both songs are sung in counterpoint, yet have such similar construction, lyrics sync. Skinner and Williams perform the first, Mendez and Thorell, the second-this delightfully expressive.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Julia Murney, Clarke Thorell, Lindsay Mendez, Ted Sperling, Natasha Yvette Williams, Emily Skinner
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
Everything’s Coming Up Ethel-The Ethel Merman Songbook
Ted Sperling- Artistic Director/Stage Director/Writer/Host
Jeffrey Klitz-Music Director/Piano
Lainie Sakakura-Associate Director/Choreographer
Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall
92 Y at 92nd and Lexington Avenue
NEXT UP:I Have Confidence-Rodgers After Hammerstein– May 21-23