The Grove Park Inn, a luxurious old resort hotel and spa in Asheville, North Carolina, hosts an annual “All That Jazz” weekend every winter. The final evening’s festivities began with a solo set by guitarist Gene Bertoncini, introduced by emcee Maddy Winer as the “Segovia of jazz.” In his remarks to the audience, Bertoncini admitted that he had trained as an architect at Notre Dame, but opted for a musical career. When asked why during an interview a number of years ago, his musical partner at the time, bassist Michael Moore (now a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet), chimed in “Because the bridge collapsed.”
The veteran guitarist opened with one of Johnny Mandel’s loveliest ballads, “The Shadow of Your Smile” (written for the film “The Sandpiper”). Bertoncini’s development of the theme was gorgeous, as it slowly grew more intricate. Brazilian music has always been one of his specialties, so his interpretation of Jobim’s well known bossa nova “Corcovado” (“Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars”) proved to be another lyrical masterpiece. The next selection was a surprising medley: “How are Things in Glocca Mora?,” with an almost Middle Eastern flavored introduction, which then segued directly into a brisk treatment of Claude Thornhill’s theme song, “Snowfall,” recast in a brisk arrangement with brilliant improvised choruses.
Bertoncini then told his hushed audience that he thought he’d like to play a few Broadway tunes. His started off with an unusual song not typically heard in a jazz setting, “March of the Siamese Children,” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s hit musical “The King & I.” It was hard to keep up with Bertoncini’s free flowing medley, which often moved onto the next song before I could begin to name the one I had just heard. Some of the other selections included “One Morning in May,” “If I Loved You,” “There is No Greater Love,” and finally, two more pieces by Rodgers & Hammerstein: “Hello Young Lovers” (also from “The King & I”) and a delicate finale of “Edelweiss” (from “The Sound of Music”). Bertoncini then invited Ms. Winer onto the stage to sing a duet of Jobim’s “Dindi” with him to wrap his delightful set.
Before anyone could get out of his or her seat to stretch, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was promptly introduced, though before all of its members were assembled offstage, so the pianist took the stage with bassist Michael Moore and asked how everyone liked his “quartet.” Alto saxophonist Bobby Militello and drummer Randy Jones appeared in a moment, though Brubeck proved to be in a rather talkative mood as he told of the making of his upcoming Telarc release “Park Avenue South,” which was recorded in the wee hours of the morning at a Starbuck’s in Manhattan to reduce noise levels from sirens and subway trains running underneath the coffee house. He described constantly seeing people staring through the window during the gig, mouthing “Let me in,” as if he was going to get up from the piano to do so. He also mentioned that this was the quartet’s first concert of the year; they seemed very rested, yet also well prepared for the challenging evening which lay ahead.