From just about every angle, the Songbook Singers' Valentine's Day George and Ira Gershwin tribute (I had a hand in writing, narrating, and producing it) at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre/Jazz Bakery hit the bullseye. Nice, big enthusiastic crowd, no technical glitches, wonderful musical peformances by vocalists Sue Raney, Michael Dees, Kurt Reichenbach and Pinky Winters (and musical director-pianist Jim Cox's group w/ Putter Smith, Ralph Penland, Bill Reichenbach, Jr), along with a guest shot by singer Jane Harvey. Even I didn't screw up in my first appearance ever on a proscenium stage.
A newspaper review (hopefully positive) of the event might prove helpful in the Sonbook Singers' future plans to move full speed ahead in attempting to get not only this programme restaged elsewhere, but additional ones (Arlen +, Legrand & the Bergmans, Kern and Company, Berlin, et al) in the future. But there is hardly anyone remaining still practicing the art of jazz crit on a high profile basis in L.A. Yes. . .there's Don Heckman, but his forum is a widely read blog (not print media), and and there is only so much reviewing he can do. Spread kind of thin. It's doubful, alas, that a review of our evening will appear anywhere in the local commercial press.
New York, of course, is another matter entirely. Names that leap to mind who are still regularly engaged in this journalistic practice include Rex Reed, James Gavin, Will Friedwald, Gary Giddins, Stephen Holden, Terry Teachout, Marc Meyers and, perhaps, others that I'm unintentionally overlooking. A whole other ballgame back there.
There was one review of sorts, however; one that I wish was more widely circulated. It's a very nice writeup on the Yahoo group, Songbirds. It captures, I feel, what the evening was all about and how the audience responded to it. It was posted by long time contributor to the group, Irving Greines. (Never met him prior to Thursday evening's show.) With his kind permission to reprint, here it is:
"I feel very lucky.
I just attended the Valentine's Gershwin concert at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.
The show, produced by Bill Reed and Kurt Reichenbach, was perfect. Bill was the narrator, introducing the music by relating the back stories related the various songs that were sung by Sue Raney, Pinky Winters, Kurt Reichenbach and Michael Dees, with a guest appearance by Jane Harvey. As narrator, Bill kept the show flowing. His intros were spare and to the point. The show flowed.
The show was wonderful. The singers are pros. The were in top form and all loved to be a part of the show -- you could feel the vibes coming from each.
Most importantly, the performances were honest, mature, understated, sophisticated -- with enormous respect for the lyrics. In my view, a song is perfectly performed when a singer compels the listener to listen to the lyrics -- when the song is about the song, not about the singer. That happened tonight. There were no vocal pyrotechnics; there was no over-the-top stuff. No tricks. Just honesty from each performer giving devoted performance.
Any one who knows me knows I rarely use the word "perfect." Tonight, I use the word. The show was perfect in every respect. I was lucky to have been there.
In talking with the participants after the show, I encouraged them to do more of what Bill described as the beginning of a songbook series.
I thank all for a great night of music."
I feel lucky to've been there, too. --- Bill Reed