John Pizzarelli displayed his brilliance as a guitar player along with his pleasant, delightfully unremarkable voice and ample personal charm at Jazz Standard, the venue tucked under Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke. The wonderful evening would have been even more so if Pizzarelli had incorporated slightly fewer anecdotes and stabs at humor as these made him come off as trying a tad too hard--he's such a fine musician, his talents need no embroidering.
John Douglas Thompson's brilliant performance as Louis Armstrong in Terry Teachout's Satchmo at the Waldorf was one of the great moments of Shakespeare and Company's 2012 season. As we rose from our seats after the performance, my companions and I were emotionally drained, that is, deeply moved, and we agreed that the play and its message were important. With John Douglas Thompson on stage the whole experience seemed overwhelming and beyond criticism. Yet shortly after the performance, an encounter with some of those responsible brought me down to earth and forced me to enunciate the flaws I'd noticed in as succinct and helpful a way as possible. The lighting needed polishing, mostly simplification, as did the play itself. Satchmo just got a little too busy with his tape recorders at points, symptomatic of a deeper problem in the narrative process of this extended monologue and the protagonist's relation to the audience. There were and are other problems, which I'll discuss later. Thompson's acting was so powerful that one had to dig beyond it to get at these. There were only a few moments when it was tangible on stage.
Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony! Vasily Petrenko's recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole "conducting animal" to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable. The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are "double-jointed." But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some...this is a man who'd have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!