On November 13, at Carnegie Hall, the New York Pops and dazzling trio of guest singers Capathia Jenkins, Sy Smith, and Montego Glover, under the baton of Music Director Steven Reineke, paid tribute to the Harlem Renaissance and illustrious African-American divas, including centennial celebrant Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and others, in a concert billed as “Sophisticated Ladies.” Such historic names as the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom were invoked and favorite music by Billy Strayhorn, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Johnny Mercer filled the air. At the start of the evening, there was a moment of silence in memory of those killed in the day's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Reineke and the Pops set the tone by beginning with an ebullient “Take the ‘A’ Train” by William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn, as arranged by Sam Shoup. Then the guest divas gave us their first pairs of songs. Jenkins’ set consisted of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band,” arranged by Nelson Riddle, now with unusual understatement, then with the expected drive, and “Clap Yo’ Hands,” an Ella Fitzgerald song, in an aptly sweet and lively account, with audience clap-along on the second and fourth beats. Los Angeles-based Smith remembered the Cotton Club with Cabell “Cab” Calloway III’s “Zaz-Zuh-Zaz,” arranged by Christopher Crenshaw and Sean O’Loughlin, with the audience scatting and, as she strutted, clapping along. In Arlen and Theodore “Ted” Koehler’s “Stormy Weather,” first sung by Ethel Waters, Smith sang the blues with subtlety before cutting loose. Glover put us in mind of the Savoy Ballroom with an at once romantic and propulsive “You Go to My Head” by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, which Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Vaughan all recorded, and continued with a dulcet “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” with scatting interludes, written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields and introduced by Adelaide Hall in “Blackbirds of 1928.”
Reineke’s arrangement of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “The Lady Is a Tramp” gave the Pops and solo instrumentalists their moments to shine. Jenkins caressingly sang the Gershwins’ “Love Is Here to Stay,” in Riddle’s edition, a song that was part of Holiday, Washington, and Sarah Vaughan’s repertory; Smith expressed great affection in the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” which Holiday sang; and Glover gave us another Holiday song, professing fervent devotion in Arlen and Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” with long-sustained climactic notes, in Skitch Henderson’s version, with pianist Lee Musiker and the Pops.
The Pops and Reineke put us in the mood with William James “Count” Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” as arranged by Bill Elliott, serving as evocative overture to the second half of the concert. Smith sang a hot “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” by the Gershwins, in Riddle’s edition; Jenkins unleashed a sizzling rapid-fire “Something’s Gotta Give,” with words and music by Mercer, arrangement by Tony DeSare, and orchestration by Tedd Firth; and Glover offered a breezily insinuating “The Best Is Yet to Come,” by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, in Quincy Jones’ edition, not only a hit for Frank Sinatra, but sung by the titular sophisticated ladies as well.
After the Pops’ swaggering “Mack the Knife” interlude, from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera,” Smith shared a sad story, at last call, in a quietly torchy “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” by Arlen and Mercer, in duet with Musiker, in Chris Byars’ version, to kick off a trio of Billie Holiday signature songs. Glover delivered a rueful “God Bless the Child,” written by Holiday with Arthur Herzog, Jr., as arranged by O’Loughlin. And in her rocking rendition of the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward’s “Summertime,” from “Porgy and Bess,” using Tom Ranier’s edition, Jenkins rarely lost sight of the aria’s origin as lullaby more than showstopper. Of the many recordings of “Summertime,” Holiday’s, recorded in 1936, just a year after the “Porgy and Bess” premiere, was the first to hit the American pop charts.
At the end of the evening, we were at last granted our wish of hearing Broadway’s Jenkins and Glover and soul singer Smith blending voices most mellifluously, as they brought down the house with Arlen and Mercer’s “Blues in the Night,” arranged and orchestrated by Matt Podd. Their no-less-welcome encore was Arlen and Koehler’s “Get Happy.”
Join the Pops and guests Stephanie J. Block, Brian d’Arcy James, and Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA for “It’s Christmas Time in the City,” at Carnegie Hall, on December 18 or 19 at 8 pm. For more information, visit www.newyorkpops.org
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, telephone CarnegieCharge at 212/247-7800, or visit the box office at 154 West 57th Street at Seventh Avenue.