Big Band Retrospective at The Allen Room

Nick Catalano By

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Emceed by scholar/ vocalist Michael Feinstein, Jazz at Lincoln Center continued its 25th anniversary season in a celebration of the big band era. With music supplied by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, an ideal orchestra for such a program, Feinstein succeeded in deepening an understanding of the relationship between the bands, their vocalists, and the songwriter/arrangers of the era. Dubbed Swinging with the Big Bands, the evening of June 13, 2013 showcased vocalists Nellie McKay,Connie Evingson and Sachal Vasandani, with Wynton Marsalis performing featured solos.

The show focused on little known ironies and ersatz histories of the era's notable songs. Feinstein traced the lyric evolution of a 1942 offering from Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, "Why Don't You Do Right ,Baby?," from its origin as a 1936 nefarious blues satire by Kansas Joe McCoy to mainstream hit. His account of the development of the 1942 Harry James creation, "Blues and Cantabile," contained key informative commentary. Johnny Green's "Body and Soul," recorded in 1930 by Louis Armstrong, was cleverly reconstructed, with Marsalis capturing some of Satchmo's pioneering intervallic leaps. The story of how Bobby Troup snatched a bit of esoterica and turned it into the hit "Girl Talk," for his wife Julie London, was revealing. Vasandani's performance here was a highlight of the show. Reviews of the evolution of Tommy Dorsey megahit "Marie," with its vocalizing from band members, and Jimmy Dorsey 's "Green Eyes," rescued from earlier ignominy by Helen O'Connell, were equally enlightening.

Revisionist exploration of jazz history has been one of the primary missions of Jazz at Lincoln Center during its first 25 years. Michael Feinstein's role as director of the Jazz & Popular Song series has been a particularly successful component of this mission and its continuance is vital.

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