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The New York Pops: Sophisticated Ladies

Exciting tribute to the Ladies of the Harlem Renaissance included guest artists Montego Glover, Capathia Jenkins and Sy Smith.

Guest artists Sy Smith, Montego Glover and Capathia Jenkins with conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops in “Sophisticated Ladies” (November 13, 2015) (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Guest artists Sy Smith, Montego Glover and Capathia Jenkins with conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops in “Sophisticated Ladies” (November 13, 2015) (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

In this centennial of the birth of jazz great Billie Holiday, The New York Pops November concert was devoted to Harlem Renaissance ladies like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington as well as Holiday. Titled Sophisticated Ladies, the evening was graced by three dynamic guest artists, Montego Glover, Capathia Jenkins and Sy Smith, who have a tremendous affinity with this music, along with music director and conductor Steven Reineke who narrated the story of this spirited and electrifying music.  Beginning with Sam Shoup’s orchestral arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and ending in a rousing encore of “Get Happy,” performed by all the artists, the evening brought the audience to its feet.

The program alternated between songs by the ladies and orchestral numbers. In the first half of the show, each of the ladies had a set of two songs and then returned for a third. First up was Jenkins in blue, star of stage and screen, who last appeared on the New York stage in Newsies the Musical. She sang bold and brassy renditions of two George and Ira Gershwin songs arranged by Nelson Riddle: “Strike Up the Band” and “Clap Yo’ Hands,” the latter in which she had the audience help along with the clapping. Finally she sang a slow, mellow rendition of Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay,” which included in the Nelson Riddle arrangement a fancy piano accompaniment and a solo trumpet. Reineke pointed out that this song has been recorded by Billie, Dinah and Ella.

She was followed by indie recording artist Sy Smith dressed in silver lamé. She opened with Cab Calloway’s “Zaz Zuh Zaz,” first presented at the Cotton Club, which required call and response from the audience, and continued with a somber and poignant “Stormy Weather,” Harold Arlen’s song first sung by Ethel Waters. Her third song was part of the famed Battle of the Bands between Count Basie and Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom on Jan. 16, 1938. Sung by Billie Holiday to Count Basie’s band on that evening, Smith sang Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” in the big band arrangement by Riddle.

Broadway star Montego Glover (dressed in red), currently appearing in Les Miserables, began her set with “You Go to My Head,” a song with a fast Latin beat first sung at the Savoy Ballroom, and recorded by Holiday, Washington and Vaughan. She next sang the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields’ “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,”’ premiered in Broadway’s Blackbirds of 1928 by Adelaide Hall, and also performed regularly at the Cotton Club by Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge. The syncopated dance rhythm led to scat singing that made the song special. The first half of the evening ended with Glover singing Arlen’s bluesy “Come Rain or Come Shine,” a song recorded by Billie Holiday, and presented here in the Skitch Henderson arrangement which begins with an extended piano introduction. When Glover held the last note longer than seemed humanly possible, she brought down the house with the applause.

The second half began with a pulsating orchestral rendition of Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” in the Bill Elliott arrangement. The ladies sang one song each, and then presented a tribute to songs associated with Billie Holiday to commemorate her centennial which was the theme of the evening. Now dressed in a flowing orange gown shot with black, Smith applied her silken sound to Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” demonstrating an enormous vocal range, in this Riddle version.

Music director and conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Music director and conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

This was followed by Jenkins (now dressed in black covered with silver sequins) who sang Johnny Mercer’s ‘barnburner,’ “Something’s Gotta Give” in the sensational arrangement by Tony DeSare and orchestration by Todd Firth in which the song became faster with each chorus. Lastly, Glover in a svelte black gown with silver panels down the sides offered a song associated with Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, but also performed to honor Frank Sinatra’s centennial. Glover’s version of the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh’s “The Best Is Yet to Come” in the Quincy Jones arrangement was a torrid affair performed with extraordinary diction.

The Billie Holiday tribute offered three very different songs by different composers including one by Holiday herself. Arlen’s “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” began with an extended piano intro by Lee Musiker and with Smith’s fast, bluesy, syncopated version, arranged by Chris Byars. This was followed by Glover’s heartbreaking version of the Holiday/Arthur Herzog, Jr. classic, “God Bless the Child,” in an arrangement by Sean O’Loughlin which featured solo trumpet. The group concluded with the Gershwin aria, “Summertime,” from the opera, Porgy and Bess. Reineke related that although there have been 25,000 recordings of this masterpiece, Billie Holiday was the first one to record it back in 1936. Both Jenkins and the orchestra created an aural soundscape with this number in the Tom Ranier arrangement which included solo alto sax. With its tremendous finish, this number literally stopped the show as was to be expected.

The evening concluded with a world premiere arrangement and orchestration by Matt Podd of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer “Blues in the Night,” which brought all three ladies on stage for the first time in the evening and made many wish that there had been more trios during the concert. With each doing their solos in their own inimitable styles, the thrilling song ended with the ladies blending their voices in perfect unison. As if that was not sufficient, all came back for an encore of Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy” which gave a rousing finish to the memorable evening.

The next New York Pops concert of 2015, “It’s Christmas Time in the City,” will be presented on both Friday, December 18 and Saturday, December 19, at 8 PM. The guest artists will be Tony nominees Stephanie J. Block, recently in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Brian d’Arcy James, currently appearing in Something Rotten! They will be backed by Essential Voices USA, led by Judith Clurman, music director and conductor. The evening will be made up of a program of holiday favorites to help celebrate the season.

The New York Pops: “Sophisticated Ladies” (November 13, 2015)

Carnegie Hall

Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, Seventh Avenue and W. 57th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-247-7800 or visit http://www.carnegiehall.org

Running time: two hours and five minutes including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (382 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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