[Dixielandjazz] Fats Waller tribute reviewed - NY Times July 18, 2013
rsr at ringwald.com
Fri Jul 19 12:20:00 PDT 2013
An Appreciation of a Pianist's Artistry and a Nod to His Charisma
by Stephen Holden
New York Times, July 18, 2013
As two formidable pianists, Bill Charlap and Rossano Sportiello, faced each other
from behind grand pianos and played Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" on Tuesday evening
at the 92nd Street Y, their surprisingly delicate dual keyboards conjured a vision
of music boxes on a seesaw. The sound was rollicking but refined, as the pianists,
neither known for hammering the keyboard or for injecting unruly comedy into a performance,
traded variations on the theme whose melody echoes the opening verse of "Star Dust."
The performance was a high point of the program, "Fats Waller: A Handful of Keys,"
which opened the Y's 29th annual Jazz in July series.
The program might be described as a Waller sampler consisting of standards, some
written by Waller, others popularized by him, performed by a shifting ensemble that
included Anat Cohen on clarinet, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Todd Coolman on bass and
Willie Jones III on drums. The only singer, Carol Woods, steered a careful middle
course between restraint and bawdy lubricity.
As always, Mr. Charlap, the festival's suave, courtly artistic director, emphasized
balance and variety in his selection of musicians and material to provide a historical,
keyboard-based overview of Waller's artistry.
Because of the popularity of the late-'70s revue "Ain't Misbehavin'," Thomas Wright
Waller, the composer and innovative stride pianist, is remembered as much for his
rowdy fun-loving personality as for his songs. Numbers like "Keepin' Out of Mischief"
and "Honeysuckle Rose" lend themselves to caricature when sung. But the versions
heard on Tuesday were instrumental. "Keepin' Out of Mischief," in particular, was
so light and fleet, it seemed to dance in the air.
Anyone saluting Waller has to find a balance between bawdy entertainment and musical
exploration. Mr. Charlap, as was to be expected, chose a polite approach. A brilliant
musician, Mr. Charlap is not inclined to sacrifice musical sophistication for crowd-pleasing
musical comedy. Nor is he is a historical purist. He found ways to inject his solos
with an internal syncopation that lent his playing a subtle stop-start tension.
Among the musicians, Ms. Cohen stood out as the most uninhibited. Her solos were
inflected with the wail of klezmer. Ms. Woods talked-sang her numbers, most notably
"It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," into which she playfully emphasized words that Waller
improvised in his 1936 recording: "If you break my heart, I'll break your jaw."
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