SSO 'mooches' some jive music

Monday, February 14, 2005

By CLIFTON J. NOBLE Jr.

Concertgoers seemed eager to holler "Hi-De-Ho" Saturday night as the Cab Calloway and Springfield Symphony Orchestras met on the stage of Symphony Hall.

Nobody minded waiting until the end of the concert to do it, either.

In the interim they were drawn into the jive musical conversation and were moved to respond "Yes, yes, yes," "Mop, mop," "Hey now, hey now, hey now" and other imponderables, while being thoroughly entertained by Calloway's grandson and current bandleader C. Calloway Brooks, the pianistic pyrotechnics of co-leader and Music Director Joel A. Martin, and the confluence of big band and symphonic traditions in a joyful brew of swingin' music.

Throughout his long career, Cab Calloway was known as one of the most animated vocalists and bandleaders ever to light up a stage, and Brooks kept that image brilliantly alive on Saturday.

Clad in a succession of high-tone haberdashery (zoot suits in white, copper, and blue interspersed with white tux and tails, complete with feathered Stetson and opulent watch chain), Brooks strutted and mugged, flourishing panache and hip good humor well worthy of his famous granddad.

While he wore Cab's mantle of jive with ease, Brooks' voice, patter and musicality were all his own. In fact, some of the evening's most engaging moments occurred during impromptu quartet performances of Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and the traditional "St. James Infirmary Blues,"when Brooks picked up his guitar and explored those chestnuts, tastily abetted by Martin's nimble piano fingers and the solid, subtle rhythmic dual drive of bassist Matt Hughes and red-bereted drummer Wally Gator.

Martin, with roots and current residency in Western Mass, dazzled those present with two features.

On the first half, the combined orchestras delivered the first movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.

According to Brooks, former Calloway pianist Bennie Payne (with Cab's orchestra from 1931-1943) "didn't get much chance to play the piece with symphony orchestras," so Cab arranged it for big band.

Martin had fleshed out the horn charts with symphonic underpinning and garnished the whole with some brilliant piano playing, the actual sound of which was often sadly covered by the amplified sounds of the combined bands.

Martin's second feature, a Scriabin prelude inflated into a driving orchestral samba (as Carlos Santana borrowed from Brahms' Third Symphony on his 1999 "Supernatural" disc, and Ellington recorded his recasting of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" in the 1960) was far better sonically balanced and better suited to the combination of musical forces.

Martin's clever scoring gave the SSO string section their own chorus on the tune, which they negotiated with finesse.

Martin was a dynamo of laid-back, cool energy, and his talents were best displayed when the piano was audible in a lean texture and he was able to play lightly and expressively, as in the introduction to "Stormy Weather."

Some strong soloists shone among the Calloway horns, notably baritone saxophonist Alex Harding, who blew a "righteous riff" or two in "Hey Now," and trumpeter Mark McGowan, whose Maynard Ferguson-esque screams set a lofty tone for the section.

SSO Maestro Kevin Rhodes entered into the spirit of the evening, resplendent in his own white jacket (and later on sporting a feathered fedora of his own), ad-libbing easily with Brooks between tunes.

"Minnie the Moocher," the Calloway number everyone had been waiting for, rocked the house with "Hi-De-Hi's," "Ho-De-Ho's," "Hee-De-Hee's" and an instant standing ovation.

Monday, February 14, 2005

By CLIFTON J. NOBLE Jr.

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