By Ron Fassler . . .
Carnegie Hall came swinging to life Wednesday night March 16 with the New York Pops’ salute to the musical composer, arranger, and conductor, Nelson Riddle, in honor of his centenary. For those unaware of his bona fides, Riddle was the musician responsible for some of the most sensational charts from a very specific time (the 1940s-1960s), music of overwhelming power and brilliance. His craftsmanship was in evidence throughout the two-hour show conducted by the New York Pops Music Director and Conductor, Steven Reineke, who also added his well-researched and charming narration to the evening.
He was joined by three artists, two of which sang the bulk of the music. Tony DeSare, singer-pianist and award-winning composer, who elegantly and effortlessly channeled Sinatra to the delight of the well-attended crowd; Capathia Jenkins, Broadway veteran and concert artist, who brought her sultriness to a number of songs associated with Ella Fitzgerald; and a guest appearance by Christopher Riddle, who is not only a conductor in his own right, but was a bass trombonist, beginning at the age of nineteen, in his dad’s orchestra. Having fulfilled that assignment for twenty years, the stories he contributed about his father between numbers were a total treat.
I’ve been a fan of Riddle’s oeuvre for as long as I can remember, back when my parents used to listen to the eight Ella Fitzgerald songbooks non-stop, three of which Riddle arranged and conducted that included the best of the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. His seminal work for Sinatra ushered in an era that has stood the test of time by way of his original and groundbreaking orchestrations. Is there anyone who doesn’t know the iconic intros and spectacular rise and falls of “I’ve Got the World on a String” or “I’ve Got You Under My Skin?” Having them played by an orchestra as large and talented as the New York Pops was a gift of major proportions. And when Tony DeSare took to the stage to interpret those two numbers, as well as a host of others, the evening kicked into high gear.
In the middle of the second half of the show, DeSare took to the piano and sang and played a composition all his own, “Paris Always Will Have You,” for which he wrote its adroit lyrics. Not only did the style invoke Sinatra, but the arrangement was pure Riddle all the way with clever homages to the master. It ended up a highlight of the night.
Capathia Jenkins had a more difficult assignment than DeSare, in that her choosing to sing so many songs associated with Ella Fitzgerald led to her being a bit boxed in. The Riddle arrangements he wrote for the “First Lady of Song” were to show off the sultry quality of Fitzgerald’s voice, as well as her ability to caress lyrics and music, aided immeasurably by studio microphones, as opposed to the acoustically challenging Carnegie Hall, without benefit of the blending that a recording offers.
The song list made for a “what’s what” of the Great American Songbook. To name a few: “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “All the Things You Are,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Nice ‘n Easy,” “Our Love is Here to Stay” and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” all written by major forces in music. It was a bit ironic that, for an encore, Tony DeSare and Capathia Jenkins sang “When You’re Smiling,” written by a trio: Larry Shay, Marc Fisher and Joe Goodwin. As the only song of the night not written by legendary songwriters, it served as a reminder that it’s not always about being an Irving Berlin or a Cole Porter. And when songs are as masterfully arranged for a great orchestra the way Riddle did over his legendary career, we should be grateful to the New York Pops for preserving and interpreting his rich archive.
Photos: Richard Termine
Next up – New York Pops 39th Birthday Gala, For the First Time In Forever: The Songs of Kristen and Bobby Lopez, honoring the Academy and Grammy Award winning songwriting duo Kristen and Bobby Lopez on Monday, April 25, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets: Dinner Dance, Parquet & concert at newyorkpops.org/gala2022 Concert Tickets: www.carnegiehall.org