Monday, May 10, 2010

ProMusica and Jazz Vocalist Jane Monheit.

This year, Friday May 7, 2010, the annual gala fundraiser for ProMusica Chamber Orchestra was called “Lovers and Dreamers.”

The evening’s highlight was jazz vocalist Jane Monheit, sometimes accompanied by her trio and sometimes by the chamber orchestra. Timothy Russell led the chamber orchestra but Long Island girl Jane Monheit conducted everything. Lovers and dreamers; Russell and Monheit covered both topics.

ProMusica, Monheit and the musicians delivered a perfectly delightful evening of mostly American Songbook pieces.

ProMusica’s two principal venues, the Southern Theatre and St. Turibius Chapel at Pontifical College Josephinum, are well-selected for the orchestra and its usual repertory. Tonight's performance might have been better suited for St. Turibius Chapel, but more on that later. First, the good things.

Southern Theatre in particular, is the best Columbus venue for jazz vocalists and jazz ensembles. So the combination of ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and Jane Monheit with her trio was a performance to anticipate.

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra is, well, a chamber orchestra that performs principally classical and baroque music with occasional contemporary orchestral scores.

It is not unusual for this orchestra to play Bach or Beethoven. It is unusual for it to perform Hoagy Carmichael and Judy Collins.

I was curious as to how the usual ProMusica audience would react to non-classical scores.

Monheit’s opening number was Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination.” Her performance of this song was clear and emotive. It was an invitation to the evening, to lovers and dreamers, and in the first twelve seconds of the song, Monheit convinced me that I would enjoy the evening.

Some of the song’s that followed were Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town,” Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,”

A few songs before the interval, Monheit introduced me to an Arthur Swartz song that I wasn’t familiar with. The song is “Haunted Heart” and when I returned home after the performance, I looked in my songbooks but was disappointed.

But I saw others by Swartz that are familiar: “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “You and the Night and the Music.” Monheit’s performance of “Haunted Heart” was a mournful delight emotionally equal to the hopeful quality she gave to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” That song by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg became the signature piece of Judy Garland but Monheit could make that song her own if she gave her mind to it.

The second half of the performance continued with such numbers as Judy Collin’s “Since You’ve Asked.” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time.”

Monheit sang Portuguese pieces by Fernando Porto and Antonio Carlos Jobin. There seems to be a persistent liking for modern and popular Portuguese music, The most recent female jazz vocalist I reviewed for Agent of Currency was Jeni Fleming and her trio at a concert at the Gloria Dei chapel at the Trinity Lutheran Seminary. She too added numbers from Jobin to her concert. Is this a trend toward music of Portugal and Brazel composers?

My only disappointment in the performance was the venue so let me get that out of the way. Southern Theatre is an intimate performance space. Crowding the full chamber orchestra, three New York musicians with instruments, a soloist and orchestral conductor together on the Southern Theatre’s stage was a mistake.

A performance that should have been SRO, seemed that way only when you looked at the stage. With nothing to do between the pieces, the musicians, both those in the chamber orchestra and those in the trio, stayed on stage and looked like they were waiting in the lobby of the Greyhound bus station just around the corner from the Southern Theatre. When Monheit and her trio began Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” I detected a look of irony on the face of drummer Rick Montalbano.

Songs of romance seemed out of place when the singer was surrounded, cheek by jowl, by other musicians. It reminded me of the line-up of musicians waiting for their numbers to come up in Guild competitions. The music director Timothy Russell even added to the impression of too little space by sitting (on what looked like a speaker box) near the edge of the stage when the trio and Monheit were performing.

Otherwise, ProMusica and Monheit made it a delightful Spring evening. How did the usual ProMusica audience take to the non-classical play list?

After intermission only a few seats were vacant. The applause was warm but not enough to earn an encore.

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