(February 8, 2012 – West Palm Beach, FL) Maestro Bob Lappin and the Palm Beach Pops opened their latest program series Monday night at the Kravis with an enjoyable evening of true Americana, with one notable—and marvelous—exception.
Wonderful World: A Salute to Louis Armstrong offered a sampler of musical contributions made by this country during the past century — jazz, show tunes, film scores and the music of the Great American Songbook, among others — with a dash of opera thrown in for good measure.
The program — the fourth of six this season — also featured two amazing guests: trumpeter Longineu Parsons and vocalist Lillias White. Parsons, considered to be one of the best horn men alive today, has played with just about anyone and everyone throughout a 25-year career that has taken him to more than 30 counties.
White is a true Broadway star, best known for her performance in Cy Coleman’s The Life, for which she won a Tony. This power singer helped to get the evening off to a rousing start with a moving rendition of America the Beautiful, one of several great featured spots.
A medley of classic songs by Jerome Kern offered an interesting approach to The Way You Look Tonight, starting out in a jazz trio setting with the veteran rhythm section of bassist Ranses Colon and drummer Frank Derrick establishing the framework. But replacing the piano on the lead was the string section, carrying the beautiful melody in fine fashion on the first pass. Dante Luciani took over on trombone for the bridge, followed nicely by first violinist Rafael Elvira, filling in admirably for Mary Rowell as concert master.
A lush reading of Charlie Chaplin’s immortal Smile set the mood for a Pops favorite: their absolutely drop-dead gorgeous orchestral arrangement of Puccini’s Nessun Dorna from Turandot. Not only was the performance on the money, the audio mix was also exceptional, providing an experience that was the aural equivalent to Cinemascope. Rounding out the first half was a duet from Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Lady — with an ultra-smooth trumpet solo by Scott Melamerson — matched with the up-tempo It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).
In the second half, it was all about Satchmo. Considered one of the first real superstars of the modern age, Armstrong, the iconic trumpeter from The Big Easy, changed the way music was interpreted, performed and listened to — and he influenced just about every serious musician to come along since. To reinterpret master works of this caliber would be daunting, but Longineu was up to the task, staying true to the original without slipping into parody and keeping it fresh by adding his own touches now and then.
In 1947, Armstrong formed a touring group he called his All-Stars, a seven-man unit that traveled the world for the next quarter-century with the man known as the “Ambassador of Jazz” (and more affectionately as “Pops”).
Re-creating this lineup at the Kravis show were Longineu on trumpet, pianist David Hammer, Luciani on trombone and clarinetist Randy Emerick, with Colon and Derrick. The small group kicked off with Armstrong’s favorite opener, the carefree Indiana, and there was no looking back.
White joined in on Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans?), with a slow, speakeasy feel. Not so smooth was a solo by White at Mack The Knife, which would have made a great duet with Longineu. The trumpeter held his own vocally on Satchmo signatures such as Kiss to Build a Dream On and, of course, Jerry Herman’s Hello Dolly. White brought a smile to the crowd with the sentimental closer, What a Wonderful World, clearing the way for a full-tilt, Dixieland reading of When the Saints Go Marching In that brought the audience to its feet. Suddenly, it was Sunday afternoon in “Nawlens.”
By making good use of its guest artists and spreading the wealth among the key players, the Palm Beach Pops has once again successfully combined some of the best music ever written with some of the finest musicians in the Southeast to create a fun evening in honor of one of the most loved performers of the 20th century. What’s not to like?