New York Music Review by Marilyn Lester
The increasingly popular bandleader Vince Giordano brought eight of his Nighthawks players to The Town Hall for a swinging holiday fête, New York style. Leading off with a rousing “Jingle Bells,” the 1857 chestnut by James Lord Pierpont, the ballroom couple Lou Brockman and Heather Gehring (who appeared intermittently throughout the evening) danced to their own noir-ish, gothamesque choreography.
Early on, the affable Giordano promised a lot of fun and it appeared in the quirky form of the Xylopholks, a trio of eccentrics dressed in animal costumes, first playing the old-timey “Charleston Capers” (George Hamilton Green) and later, a second act opener of a Hanukah parody song.
The first of several high points in the show arrived with Giordano’s high praise for the enduring music of Duke Ellington. The first of three Dukish tunes of the evening was “Sugar Rum Cherry” from the Ellington-Strayhorn “Nutcracker Suite” (David Berger arr.). In act two, Ellington’s 1941 hit “Just Squeeze Me” featured jazz violin virtuoso Regina Carter, while Ellington’s festive 1930 tune “Ring Dem Bells” followed soon thereafter.
Carter was the first act closer, riffing on “Carol of the Bells” – the 1904 folk-inspired standard written by Mykola Leontovych and Peter J. Wilhousky – which surely had the two composers swinging in their graves. Carter flowed into 1933’s “Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown” (Mack Gordon-Harry Revel), which featured an inspired call-and-response segment between Carter and Bria Skonberg on trumpet.
Singing trumpet player Bria Skonberg also played and sang “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (John Frederick Coots-Haven Gillespie). Other vocals in the show were by Molly Ryan, looking and sounding very 1940s, with Louis Prima’s swing-invoking “What Will Santa Claus Say?” and later with “Christmas Dreaming” (Lester Lee-Irving Gordon). Kat Edmondson, channeling a 1950s version of Blossom Dearie, sang “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (Frank Loesser) and “Mele Kalikimaka,” the 1949 Hawaiian-themed Christmas song by Robert Alex Anderson. The Argentine-born Sofia Rei sang a velvety, if slightly under-tempo, version of, Mel Torme, aka the Velvet Fog’s “Christmas Song.”
Radio raconteur Ira Glass made two appearances, his monologues invoking “early Woody Allan light.” The first was an overly long theme on Christmas jokes invented by children; Glass’s second half patter was shorter and funnier, and was enriched by the dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass who performed an energetic, satiric and perfectly clever takeoff on hip hop music and lyrics.
An extremely high point in “Gotham Holiday Swing” came to the stage in the form of the one-and-only Buster Poindexter, aka David Johansen, whose first act rendition of Jack Fox’s “Zat You, Santa Claus?” surely made song-originator Louis Armstrong proud. In act two, “mixing the sacred with the profane,” Johansen sang the calypso tune “Christmas Morning the Rum Had Me Yawning, by Lord Beginner, aka Bertie Moore. When Johansen entreated the audience to sing along with the chorus, no one could resist joining in on “take a stick and knock down your brother, and you take a stick and knock down your father.”
Bringing a little Latin to the show, singer-percussionist Pedrito Martinez lit up the stage with freestyle conga riffs and his rendition of “Feliz Navidad” (José Feliciano). In the second half of the show, Martinez performed – what else – “The Little Drummer Boy” (Katherine Kennicott Davis), backed by Sofia Rei and Skonberg. The arrangement, with lyrics done alternately and simultaneously in Spanish and English, and with the addition of the trumpet laced throughout, made for a stunning rendition.
With the assembled cast on stage, the only possible closer to a holiday variety show could only be Irving Berlin’s iconic 1942 standard, “White Christmas.” It was enthusiastically played by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and sung to by all in the house, releasing a happy audience into the cold night air with thoughts of sugar plums and dreidels dancing through their heads.
Sound design: Mike Murphy; Lighting design: Jim Faraday and John Gordon; Technical Supervisor: William Dehling; Production Manager: Charles J. Dishan.
The Town Hall presents Gotham Holiday Swing featuring Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks Orchestra. December 19, 8 pm at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, 212-840-2824, www. thetownhall.org
Photos: Neil Siegal