An Evening with Johnny Mandel featuring the DIVA Jazz Orchestra with Ann Hampton Callaway
Massry Center, College of St Rose
September 26, 2009
by Tom Pierce
How does a tribute to a truly legendary composer/arranger/conductor like Johnny Mandel meaningfully utilize him, while comfortably integrating him with the dynamic, experienced Sherrie Maricle and DIVA Jazz orchestra, who don’t typically utilize or require a conductor?
This question was very effectively answered by a well-conceived format that was alluded to in the preface to concert title: “Music and Memories”. Basically, the presentation centered around having the charmingly witty Mr Mandel give very personal introductions to the program’s songs played by this excellent big band. He then turned to the orchestra and almost casually, used subtle movements to guide & accentuate their pulsating rhythm variations and sophisticated volume dynamics to his arrangements.
The ensemble power & precision, and soloists’ inventiveness & prowess of the DIVA Jazz Orchestra was extraordinary. Its 17 year history has been replete with outstanding musicians, both currently and past, who have gone on to respected solo careers It is unlikely that anyone, sight unseen, would identify them as anything other than an exciting, top flight band, of no particular gender. It was little wonder the College of St Rose was anxious to have them return one year to the day of their playing at the premiere of the impressive Massry Center, as leader/drummer Sherrie Maricle pointed out.
The evening’s program was well designed to showcase the scope and depth of Johnny Mandel’s unparallel 70 year career, which has also included playing trumpet & trombone in many of the top swing era orchestras, such as Count Basie, Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. The song list was a well-balanced combination of his hard-swinging jazz accomplishments, and his well known film scores. Space doesn’t permit a detailed description of all the numbers performed, which are listed at the end, but the following highlights are offered.
His facetious introduction of the opener, the surging “Low Life” (composed for Count Basie in 1959), as being autobiographical, set the humorous pattern for many of his remarks. Then, DIVA’s sprightly romp of the tune included a rousing “Tenor Battle” between powerful saxophonists Janelle Reichman and Leigh Pilzer. His hauntingly familiar “Black Nightgown” from the 1958 Academy Award winner, “I Want to Live”, credited by most as the first all-Jazz film score, was delivered with a rich, full sound, highlighted by fine alto sax & trumpet solos. This selection demonstrated his ability to flexibly use diverse colors & rhythms of jazz, as well as aspects of classical and other music genres to invoke the wide range of moods necessary to skillfully complement and accent a quality dramatic film.
His droll introduction of the “Theme from M*A*S*H” as an “obscure” song quickly provoked chuckles, as soon as the first few familiar notes were played. Similarly, he casually offered “Here’s one you may have heard” as a lead into his “The Shadow of Your Smile”, that was played beautifully on Flugelhorn by lead trumpeter, Tanya Darby. On both these tunes and others, the doubling of the saxophone section with a full tonal collection of flutes and clarinets provided the necessary range of colors and shadings that his memorably textured compositions and arrangements called for.
He explained the creation of “Not Really the Blues”, a torrid, hard-charging composition from his big band days, as being geared to wake up theater-goers when the orchestra came back onstage, after some in the audience may have fallen asleep during the movie segment. This number featured a blazing Sonny Stitt-like tenor solo from the excellent Janelle Reichman.
Ann Hampton Callaway, normally a headliner herself, made excellent use of her part of the program, with three strong performances. Her sumptuous, well-controlled voice spun a hypnotic tale on Mandel’s gorgeous ballad, “A Time For Love”. For a switch in tempo, she then let loose a powerful, soaring treatment of his arrangement of the blues classic, “’Taint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do”. This song was popularized by a wide range of stellar artists from Bessie Smith and Fats Waller in the 20’s and later Billie Holiday and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others. Her introduction of her final number, Mandel’s “Where Do You Start” (with exquisite lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman) described it as the “greatest breakup song”. She also saluted Mandel for his extraordinary work on Shirley Horn’s 1991 “Here’s to Life” CD that introduced this number; and has since been a huge favorite of jazz singers. She then skillfully accompanied herself, solo on piano, a pleasing change of pace and mood for the program.
Special thanks are certainly owed to Mr Mandel’s spouse, an alumnus of St Rose, who was instrumental in arranging his participation in this truly special event. In addition to justly paying recognition to Mr Mandel, the concert serves as a joyful reminder of the many satisfying musical qualities of the big band era, most of which the dominant musical styles popular today sadly lack.
Lastly, it should be noted that Mr Mandel’s extraordinary professional standing and creative accomplishments are certainly not all in the past. He was the arranger selected by Barbra Streisand & her producer, Diana Krall, for Streisand’s new CD (“Love is the Answer”), released this week - an assignment all of today’s top arrangers would have killed for.
Unless noted otherwise, all songs on the program below were composed and arranged by Johnny Mandel:
- “Low Life”
- “Close Enough For Love”
- “Not Really the Blues”
- “Emily” (from score of “Americanization of Emily”)
- “Black Nightgown” (from score of “I Want to Live”)
- “The Shadow of Your Smile” (Love theme from “The Sandpiper”)
- “The Theme from M*A*S*H”
- “Keester Parade (“Centerpiece”)
- “Krazy Kat”
- “Theme From ‘I Want to Live””
- “A Time For Love” – AHC vocal (Composed by Mandel, Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, Arranged by Mike Renzi)
- “Taint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” – AHC vocal (Composed by Porter Granger & Everett Granger, arranged by Johnny Mandel)
- “Where Do You Start” – AHC vocal (accompanied herself solo on piano)
- “Frisco Club” (from score of “I Want to Live”)
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 8 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.