CONCERT REVIEW: Star-struck by Dick Hyman and Gloria Musicae
Star-struck describes the state of being in the esteemed company and music of famed pianist/composer Dick Hyman for an evening of "Music in Reel Time," but "Moonstruck" was the beginning of it all. Or rather, the first set of this extraordinary celebration of Hyman's music was an arrangement of "Musetta's Waltz" (Puccini) and three original tunes in that Italian style that Hyman prepared for Norman Jewison's Academy Award-winning movie starring Cher and Nicolas Cage. The combo playing along featured Joe Cerrito, accordion, Don Mopsick, bass, and Tony Bruno, drums.
The format was brilliantly simple. Hyman and his combo at just left of center stage, singers to the right, with a movie screen suspended above them all. Between original film clips and live, smart and funny conversation led by our convivial hostess June LeBell, we enjoyed a friendly conversation mixed with show-and-tell performances. We can thank the organizers of Gloria Musicae and producer Ed Alley for this charmingly jovial format.
Hyman's movie work covered the entire spectrum which did include his piano playing in sync for actors portraying Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin. Clips from "French Quarter" (1978) and "Scott Joplin" (1977) dovetailed with Hyman's performance on stage followed by a captivating display of his improvisatory talents in Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are."
Any celebration of a legend is bound to attract other notables which this time was noted "Irish" tenor Robert White who flew down for the occasion to sing an original Hyman song which has long been in his repertoire, "Take, O Take," a tender song of love taken from William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." White's a total charmer and tugged at hearts with this song and even more with his encore, "Danny Boy."
When the singers of Gloria Musicae joined him in his original works "I Scarce Recall" and "On the Rising Incidence of Jogging," the wit of the lyrics by poet Willard Espy were lost with the predominance of the piano over voices. This was not the case in the set of six arrangements that followed which highlighted the new excellence of this choral ensemble, now notably younger and more vocally flexible than in previous years. Artistic director Joseph Holt led these strong and expressive voices singing Hyman's generous arrangements of stellar music with a splash of showmanship.
With all this great music, what was I singing to myself the rest of the night? Two tunes. The 1948 infectiously fun hit by Herb Magidson and Carl Sigman, "Enjoy Yourself" which Hyman arranged to a samba beat for use in Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996). The talented young singer Maria Wirries has the type of voice and stage presence that just makes you think all is well with the world. She easily sold us on the carpe diem message of "Enjoy Yourself" and then wowed with precision and technique that introduced the jazz and scatting style of Hyman's "Bottle It Up" in its world premiere. "Bottle It Up" had sizzle as well as a fractured love story of boy meets girl. Amongst the vocal scat phrases were just enough hints to string together an age-old narrative.
There was never a question about it. Dick Hyman is a musical wonder as well as jazz legend. Gloria Musicae threw an entertaining celebration and I'm still star-struck.
MUSIC IN REEL TIME. The Gloria Musicae Singers, Joseph Holt, artistic director, Dick Hyman, piano, June LeBell, host/narrator. Reviewed April 7 at the Sarasota Opera House.