Michael Feinstein is the curator for the Jazz and Popular Song series. This evening he was not only the curator and host but one of the performers. The title of this evening's show was "More Than a Song: The Music That Integrated America." It featured musical theatre songs that dealt with oppression and race going back to the early part of the last century when racial segregation was the norm.
Mr. Feinstein opened the evening with "Without a Song," from the 1929 musical Great Day (see sidebar). Feinstein seemed to be straining a bit at portions of the song that were in the lower regions of his range. That was quickly forgotten as he took the song up-tempo and made it fly.
Also on the bill, Quentin Earl Darrington. Last seen on Broadway in the revival of Ragtime, Mr. Darrington sang the song that became synonymous with vaudeville comedian Bert Williams, “Nobody,” with sly sarcasm. Later he solidly nailed "Ol' Man River" from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Showboat. Even while doing the song without a mike Darrington amply filled up the Allen Room with his rich Baritone voice and added the requisite button to the end of the first act. Later in the show he sings the song he sang in Ragtime, “Let Them Hear You.” As Coalhouse Walker Jr. he roars of the fight “how justice was our battle and how justice was denied, let them hear you.”
One of my personal favorites, Karen Ziemba added some pizazz with a whoop-it-up version of the Charleston. Later she did a one-eighty with an intense and disquieting performance of “You've Got to be Carefully Taught” from Rodger's and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Ms. Ziemba won a Tony Award for the Lincoln Center production of Contact and has also been seen on Broadway in Curtains and Steel Pier.
Christiane Noll and Allan Harris rounded out the vocalists. Ms. Noll was also in the recent revival of Ragtime and you might remember her from Jekyll & Hyde. Mr. Harris's version of “Black and Blue” from the 1930 musical Hot Chocolate, was done with clarity and resignation. His rendition of “This is the Life” from the musical Golden Boy, had a velvety mellowness to it and would have made Sammy Davis Jr. smile. Davis sang the song in Golden Boy on Broadway in 1964.
Ms. Noll has a beautiful voice with a lovely tone to it. She sang a moving version of “I Must Have That Man” to rip your heart out. Pairing up with Mr. Darrington for “We Kiss in a Shadow” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, the two eloquently interpret a song that has for so long been associated with forbidden love.
The four vocalists came together for “Supper Time” and nearly reach harmonic perfection. The song is by Irving Berlin and was introduced by Ethel Waters in the 1933 musical As Thousands Cheer. It tells of a wife’s reaction to learning of her husband’s lynching. The four come together again for a less serious final number, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” by Fats Waller. While most folks remember this as the title song of the 1978 musical review of Waller’s work, it also was originally written for Hot Chocolate.
The entire evening was exceptionally well curated with many songs that you might recognize and many you might not. Tedd Firth led a four-man combo that consisted of Warren Odze on drums, Tom Kennedy on bass and Andy Farber on woodwinds. Firth was also responsible for the lively arrangements.
In his Playbill notes, Will Friedwald speaks to how music was ahead of its time, bringing races together long before other areas of society. As witnessed by the songs chosen, music not only brought the races together but provided inspiration that crossed racial barriers and created some of American music’s most memorable, and oft-times moving, songs.
The third and final concert in the Jazz and Popular Song series will be June 7 and 8 and will feature Michael Feinstein, Curtis Stigers and Leslie Uggams. Titled “Sweet and Low Down: How Popular Standards Became Jazz Classics,” it will present classic songs from two viewpoints: as they were originally conceived for Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley, and then as they were re-invented by jazz performers to become classics in the jazz repertoire. Click here for more details. Feinstein will also host a family concert on Sunday, June 5 at 3:00PM I Got Rhythm: The Common Roots of Popular Song and Jazz that will also feature Feinstein, Stigers and Uggams. Click here for more details.