by Andrew Poretz . . .

Ted Rosenthal is the consummate musician’s musician.  You might have caught him as the accompanist for heavy hitters in jazz and cabaret like Ann Hampton Callaway, or when he saved the day when the pianist scheduled to perform Gershwin’s “Concert in F” at the 92nd Street Y with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks abruptly canceled a few years back.  If you were really lucky, you got to see his jazz opera, “Dear Erich,” based on actual letters his doomed grandmother sent to his grandfather from a concentration camp in World War II.  Yet he may be most at home with his own trio at a jazz club like Birdland.

At Birdland on September 22, the Ted Rosenthal Trio played a diverse, 11-song set of jazz standards, his own compositions, and classical pieces he reimagined for the jazz stage.

Noriko Ueda

On the standard “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer), Ted’s interesting approaches to the underlying melody, never strayed too far, even in complicated changes of rhythm and style. His bassist, the Japanese-born Noriko Ueda, also kept enough of the melody in her solos to keep the tune recognizable.

On the Thelonious Monk tune “Well You Needn’t,” there was a certain bouncy tension with a feeling similar to that of “When You’re A Jet.” 

Ted’s avuncular, casual presence belies his unparalleled ability to convey emotion through his playing and arrangements.  “Always Believe,” the first of his two pieces modified from the“Dear Erich” aria form, may move the listener to tears, even without the powerful lyrics of the opera.  This emotional resonance was captured by the sensitive playing of both Ted and Noriko, who used the bow here.  The second piece, “You Make Me Laugh,” was a welcome change after the intense wallop of “Always Believe.”

He took two classical pieces, Schumann’s “Traumerei” and Chopin’s somber “Nocturn in F Minor,” and reimagined them for a contemporary jazz audience.  Whether either of these composers would appreciate the modern arrangements cannot be known, but they’d surely be thankful for the new exposure to new audiences unfamiliar with their work. 

The trio closed their set with “Old Devil Moon” (Burton Lane/Yip Harburg), an especially fun number with call and response solos and fun musical quotes. 

The Ted Rosenthal Trio

Ted Rosenthal – piano

Noiko Ueda – Bass

Tim Horner – Drums

Photos: Andrew Poretz