Jazz virtuosos and aficionados Will and Peter Anderson heat and cool the euphonic atmospheres of summer once again. With their relaxed, smooth manner, wit and grace, they play iconic jazz during the month of August. The venue, Symphony Space, suffices for their amazing Songbook Summit by the inimitable identical twins. I always aver then admit to friends. No! I cannot tell them apart, especially when they dress the same.
However, their talents remain diverse. And team-like they coalesce harmoniously. Thus, Peter gloriously plays the Tenor Sax, the Soprano Sax, and Clarinet, while Will plays gloriously the Alto Sax, the Clarinet, and Flute. Peter Anderson, the arranger, morphs the melodies and they take on unique hues. And Will’s prodigious knowledge about the history of jazz astounds. Together they serve up their artistic merit to present great renditions of classical jazz tunes, and usually to round out the Anderson’s presentations Molly Ryan (vocals), Steve Ash or Tardo Hammer (piano), Clovis Nicolas (bass), and Phil Stewart (drums) synchronize and blend in their exceptional musicality. All contribute to an evening awash in vibrance, exuberance, and fun. Enthralled, the audience remains loath to leave. They stand and applaud and yearn for one more song. Inevitably, this occurs every time I attend their exceptional shows.
For their current presentation, the Andersons wrapped their American song tributes with some of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Notably, they charm audiences with their Songbook Summit by featuring a different composer each week. First, the heightened melodies of Irving Berlin graced the auditorium (August 7-12). I missed it! Thankfully, I returned from the Edinburgh International Festival in the U.K. to make it to their presentation of songs by Jerome Kern (August 14-19). I’m thrilled I did. Finally, they will complete the month with songs by Hoagy Carmichael (August 21-26) and Jimmy Van Heusen (August 29-September 2). I’m revved.
For those jazz lovers not familiar with the Andersons, you’ve missed an exhilarating time. Their shows propel you into different eras as they introduce the composer and his music. Actually, their presentations unfold like an unsealed musical time capsule. With archived projections, voice overs, stills and film clips, Will explains the context and background for the stupendous jazz renditions they play. Masterfully, their jazz riffs, melodies and harmonies, meld the historic with the modern. Peter’s arrangements strike artfully. As they recall threads of the original melody, they lift and jive to divergent strains.
Importantly, one catches the sense that history manifests in American music even to this day. And we note that the continuum of music moves from past to present and stays vibrant as it abides in the current culture.
Furthermore, Will suggests influences. For example, Kern, an attributed genius who created the modern American musical, influenced Stephen Sondheim. Interestingly, we see a clip of Sondheim discuss Kern’s influence. Additionally, a clip of Richard Rogers discusses Kern’s classical genius constructing complicated harmonies. This brief background of film clips, etc., enhances our appreciation for Kern. Thus, we embrace the Andersons’ adaptations of Kern favorites comparing past versions through the years with the Andersons’ current version. It is a cool way to focus on Kern.
As Will elucidates salient details about Kern, we note Kern wrote Broadway shows then wrote for films (700 or more songs). And through clips and screen projections, Will notes who sang the Kern tunes (i.e. “Fine Romance,” Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”) and where (Broadway, film, TV, stand alone recordings). Naturally, the band mingles in with their versions. Yet, when Will slips in the historical references and one sees the projections and hears a bit of great vocalists of the past and present singing (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) Kern songs, we get it.
And we especially “get it,” when the Andersons, Molly Ryan, and the band strike out with their jazz renditions. Humorously, Will quips that Kern became annoyed when jazz musicians floated riffs off his melodies and reformed the structure of his songs. Indeed, the Andersons, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Dean Martin, and Mel Gibson would annoy Kern. For these and countless others helped themselves to liberating Kern’s melodies and transforming them into jazz standards (i.e. “Yesterdays,” “I Won’t Dance,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”).
The Andersons’ presentation elevates Kern’s work to the stature it deserves for its timelessness. A clear example of this for me was their presentation and elucidation of Kern’s “Ole Man River,” from the Broadway show which was ahead of its time, Showboat (1927). Usually, the vocalist, a male, resonates in the deep bass registers. Molly Ryan performed the song in a higher key with the band members echoing their riffs memorably, uniquely. Amazing. The audience loved it.
The Andersons’ Songbook Summit remains a must see. First, in the band’s versions of favorite Kern songs, we can appreciate the songs’ evolutions from the social constructs of Kern’s time as they take on a new form that resonates in the present. The Andersons and their band are masters at this art of spinning new interpretations on older melodies revealing the music’s timeless appeal.
For times CLICK ON SYMPHONY SPACE located at 2537 Broadway at 95th St. NY, NY. Box Office: 212-865-5400.