by Carole Di Tosti
Will and Peter Anderson, virtuoso jazz musicians have been presenting their glorious American Songbook Summit at Symphony Space for the entire month of August. Starting with Irving Berlin, they’ve highlighted ionic songs of Jerome Kern and Hoagy Carmichael. This week they conclude with the work ferociously, play more ferociously Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990).
Will Anderson’s research (Will creates the scripts for the shows), about Van Heusen, underscores why Van Heusen must be included in their Summit about superlative American composers. Out of 330,000 songwriters Van Heusen remains in the “Top 20.” He wrote 800 songs and composed for 220 movies. Fifty of his songs remain standards interpreted and reinterpreted up until today by jazz musicians and vocalists. Close friends with Frank Sinatra who wanted Van Heusen to be one of two non family members to be buried in their family plot, Van Heusen and Sinatra worked together with lyricist Sammy Cahn resulting in 85 of Van Heusen’s songs being recorded by Sinatra.
Their Van Heusen presentation, as with the others in their Songbook Summit, prove that Will and Peter Anderson are their own American treasures who combine performance grace and style with theatrical savvy. Will, who creates the framework for the evenings applies his prodigious research to intersperse it entertainingly and humorously among their performances of Van Heusen melodies. Thus, we understand how Van Heusen’s influence has spanned the decades.
Will selects archived photos, film and TV clips, and videos. Combining these with Peter Anderson’s inspired, unique arrangements, the brothers, band members (Tardo Hammer-piano, Clovis Nicolas-bass, Phil Stewart-drums) and the accomplished vocalist Molly Ryan, reveal the timelessness of Van Heusen. Will who plays Alto Sax, Clarinet and Flute, and Peter Anderson who plays Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax and Clarinet are masters of their instruments. It’s a thrill to see how Van Heusen finds a new iteration and revelation through Molly Ryan’s lyricism and the bands’ vibrance.
During the evening, we note Van Heusen’s tunes were sung or recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bette Midler, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and more. We also enjoy seeing historical film clips of Bob Hope-Bing Crosby’s Road Movies for which Van Heusen composed, as well as clips of Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Groucho Marx, lyricist Sammy Cahn, Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, Willie Nelson and Perry Como crooning Van Heusen.
Did you know that the “Love and Marriage” lead in to the popular TV show Married With Children is a Van Heusen song? And that the tune “High Hopes,” sung by Rick Moranis on Sesame Street and also featured on The Simpsons, is a Van Heusen tune which he composed for the film A Hole in the Head, starring Frank Sinatra? These delectable bites of information enhance our understanding of this American icon and remind us of our social history and our own place in it.
Though “Rock and Roll” supplanted the period of melodic tunes that Van Heusen sported, his work remains a favorite of jazz musicians. One reason suggested was that Van Heusen was influenced by Jerome Kern’s modulations in mid song and those digressions and movements fit beautifully with jazz stylism.
During the evening I particularly enjoyed Molly Ryan and the band’s rendition of “Like Someone in Love,” a song which has been recorded five hundred times. “It Could Happen to You,” and “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and “My Kind of Town” also were standouts. “Come Fly With Me,” a favorite Van Heusen song was selected by Steven Spielberg as an ironic touch in his film Catch Me If You Can (2002) starring Leonardo Di Caprio about a prescient teenager impersonating a pilot and kiting checks. Surely, Van Heusen’s work (he won three Oscars and was nominated for others) will continue to be selected in tributes to him as a sterling American composer. Thanks to the Andersons, their Van Heusen tribute may be added to their canon of musical composers whose influence is and will be immutable.
The one hour and thirty minutes of The Andersons’ Songbook Summit, Jimmy Van Heusen rips by so quickly, you do not want it to end and wish for an encore. You do have a few days left to enjoy this “one-of-a-kind” must-see experience of the Andersons playing Jimmy Heusen at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway, New York, NY 10025). The show runs through Sunday, September second. You can call for tickets at (212) 864-5400 or visit the website https://www.symphonyspace.org/events/calendar.