Jazz in the City: The New York Connection

May 9, 2017 | By | Add a Comment

At the Duplex, Jazz in the City: The New York Connection combines narrative by historian and music aficionado Charles R. Hale with song selections by the David Raleigh Trio (which is really a quartet if you count pianist-singer Raleigh himself). Raleigh’s fellow musicians at the performance I saw were saxophonist/clarinetist Tony Carfora, bassist Evan Gregor, and percussionist Gerry Gibbs.

The program, directed by Natalie Douglas, is solid entertainment. Seated downstage left, the avuncular, quiet-spoken Hale shares stories about the musical history of New York City and about his own life and family background in the city. Hale’s contributions are appealing, although the scope of his narration is perhaps too wide ranging. The most memorable of his anecdotes are the more personal ones—for instance, a story about his discovery of fire department records that helped him better understand the life of his fire-fighting grandfather. It seems odd, finally, that some recollections have little to no personal dimension at all, but are instead stories about such figures as Cole Porter and Lena Horne—stories that are likely common knowledge to many among the audience. The show would be better if the personal approach prevailed throughout.

Raleigh and his band frequently provide short instrumental interludes throughout Hale’s spoken passages and sometimes a quiet underscore to his words. For instance, when Hale speaks of George Gershwin at the beginning of the show, the musicians play phrases from “‘S Wonderful,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” But the highlights of the show are, not surprisingly, the band’s full-fledged numbers, with Raleigh providing vocals. These are also connected in some way to Hale’s stories. For example, the Gershwin segment features a full version of “Summertime” (lyrics by DuBose Heyward), with an arrangement that calls to mind that of George Benson’s hit 1976 recording “This Masquerade.”

Raleigh’s playing is lovely throughout. And as a singer he proves himself to be something of a chameleon, On “Summertime” he invites comparisons to Stevie Wonder, while on the raucous “Stormy Weather” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler) his vocals recall those of Ray Charles. I found him particularly memorable on Cole Porter’s “Down in the Depths (On the Ninetieth Floor),” in which he allows a quirky but charming sense of humor to emerge.

The show benefits greatly from the contributions of Carfora, particularly in the selections in which he plays saxophone. He is featured prominently in many of the group’s numbers, delivering some scorching solos throughout the evening.

One of the more novel performances of the evening is a turn on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Something Wonderful.” As sung in The King and I (and in performances outside the context of that show), the song has customarily been presented from the point of view of a woman who has realized that her man is a good-though-flawed human being. Here, Hale uses it to express the feelings of a son about an imperfect father. Hale speaks Hammerstein’s lyrics while Raleigh provides a quiet piano background featuring Rodgers’s melody. This shift to a filial rather than romantic context is effective—and quite moving.

It’s a bit tricky for me to comment on the last quarter of the performance that I attended, as it was interrupted by a medical emergency involving an audience member. The show was halted for ten minutes or so, and—once it resumed—it was difficult for everyone involved to return fully to the previously established groove. Bravos are nevertheless due to Hale for calmly stopping the show when he sensed something was amiss, and to Lisa Moss and the Duplex staff for responding quickly and professionally to the incident.

The Duplex – April 13, 27, May 4, 11

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. His features and reviews have appeared in such publications as American Theatre and Back Stage and on BistroAwards.com. As a dramaturg he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. His stage adaptation of Henry James's novel The Tragic Muse was part of the Gilded Stage Festival at the Metropolitan Playhouse in January 2014.

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