The worlds of jazz and concert music at times intersect, and the LA Phil has shown an increasing dedication to exploring the points where this happens. The Philharmonic performed short pieces by Clarence Williams and Spencer Williams, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Jelly Roll Morton and an excerpt from a suite by conductor Tyzik. The Joplin piece, "Sunflower Slow Drag," was particularly successful. Written originally as a piano rag, Joplin orchestrated it ten years later in 1912 and that version played to the ensemble's strengths. Tyzik offered orchestrations of three preludes by Gershwin written the year before "Rhapsody in Blue". These were very illuminating, with the clarinet phrases offering previews of the later piece and also demonstrating the influence of klezmer music on the young composer. Tyzik's Blue Rondo for String Orchestra was also effective, drawing out the natural facility of stringed instruments in expressing the blues. The three pieces by Morton, "Grandpa's Spells," "Jungle Blues," and "Black Bottom Stomp" found Tyzik playing trumpet, often with a mute and always with affection for the composer.
The phrase 'living legend' is thrown about a bit glibly in this town, but if Tony Bennett doesn't deserve that title then no one does. The venerable singer looked good and sounded even better in the bandshell, his vocal gifts seemingly undiminished by the hand of time and his interpretive ability still peerless. Equally impressive was his stamina. Backed by a fine quartet of musical director Lee Musiker on piano, bassist Paul Langosch, Gray Sargent on guitar and the steady Harold Jones behind the drum kit, Bennett could have easily chosen to coast behind the band. Not Tony Bennett. He performed at a workman-like pace that would have worn down many singers a fraction of his age, riffling through and riffing upon the pages of the Great American Songbook for an hour and forty minutes. The songs came in groups of four and five, with very short features for the instrumentalists and only occasional pauses for Bennett to reminisce upon his sixty-year career.
Bennett's twenty-four song set included several of his biggest hits and some of the best-loved songs of the last century--two categories that are far from mutually exclusive. He sang such signature tunes as Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," "Steppin' Out with My Baby" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" with a rich, warm and expressive voice, and breathed new life into such standards as "I'll Be Seeing You" and "The Best is Yet to Come." He even threw in one of his own compositions, a touching dedication to his wife.
We are currently enjoying a kind of renaissance of jazz vocals, with artists young and old alike recording new and exciting arrangements of standards. But none have surpassed Tony Bennett, who has been doing this all along. The art of song has no finer practitioner.