Billy Childs is a triple threat of music. The jazz pianist, an L.A. native, is not only an accomplished player, but he's also won Grammys for both arranging and composing. The latter skill has drawn the disparate likes of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Kronos Quartet and the American Brass Quintet to commission Childs’ music for them. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald described Child’s compositional talents as: "...impossible to tell where the jazz ends and the classical music begins.”
Childs will be playing with a jazz quartet at the Blue Whale bar in downtown Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday nights. Part of the latter performance -- with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater emceeing and singing a number or two -- will be heard live on National Public Radio during its multijazz artist “Toast of the Nation” New Year’s Eve broadcast. Childs will also be at Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 11 -- he will play with a jazz quartet, and then Kronos will play a set and then the two ensembles will collaborate on a new piece written by Childs and aptly named “Music for Two Quartets.”
Among his ecclectic influences:
When Woody Allen brings his love of New Orleans jazz to the Royce Hall stage at UCLA Thursday night, he may have a music stand in front of him, but he won't be bringing a pulpit, too.
The 76-year old Allen, who has been playing clarinet in a combo for nigh on half a century now, has thrown in the towel as a proselytizer for his favorite form of jazz.
"You know," Allen said in a recent phone interview in advance of this event, "there is nothing more boring than grabbing people by the shoulders and telling them to listen to these great musicians or that great record.
"I used to be that guy. I was always doing it with people, I’d stop them and say 'just listen to this' and they’d look at me like I was nuts. It would be like if I cornered you now and forced you to listen to a Gregorian chant and, well, if you happened to know about Gregorian chants and loved them, maybe you would appreciate it.
"But probably you'd just wish I'd go away. So while I'm not a great player -- in fact, I believe I'm a terrible player -- I just play New Orleans jazz on stage with the band and leave it at that."
Click here to read the interview with Woody Allen, on a life spent listening to and playing the New Orleans sound.
And listen below to the New Orleans jazz band that Allen said he would most like to have performed with.
Paulo Szot seems to traverse both the physical and musical worlds with equal ease. Born in Brazil to Polish immigrants, the world-class baritone spent his formative years in both places, immersed in the arts. He has sung opera successfully in major houses in the U.S. and Europe and seamlessly crossed over to Broadway, notably in his 2008 Tony Award-winning role in the Lincoln Center hit revival of “South Pacific.”
Having just finished singing Escamillo the bullfighter in a San Francisco Opera production of “Carmen," Szot has briefly set down -- with a stop in between to absorb the Yosemite sights -- in Costa Mesa, where Thursday through Sunday he’ll sing a cabaret set of show tunes and American Songbook standards with an instrumental trio at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Samueli Theater.
Among his life’s influences:
This post has been updated; see below for details.
Call it “Side by side, bye, Sondheim.”
A program scheduled for Saturday night at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, “Sondheim: In Conversation” ran into a seemingly fatal snag Saturday afternoon — the composer got stuck 3,000 miles away, a grounded hostage of the unexpected snowstorm that snarled air traffic in and out of New York.
In Costa Mesa, things seemed as bleak as the East Coast weather: A sold-out house but with no Stephen Sondheim, definitely no conversation, and seemingly no show.
Not so fast. As it turned out, formidable resources were in the house. Broadway veterans Christine Ebersole and Brian Stokes Mitchell, included on the program to provide vocal amplification and illumination to the conversation, aren’t known as Sondheim singers per se, but they proved to be masters of improvisation and inspiration Saturday.
After hearing that Sondheim was a scratch, the principals gathered about 4 p.m. in Ebersole's dressing room and began going through folders of music, deciding what to sing and who would sing it. At around 5:45, they started rehearsing with pianist Tedd Firth. At 8:18, along with emcee Michael Kerker, they came onstage to find an audience that just had been greeted at the door with the news that while there was no Sondheim, there would be a show of some sort.
The result: a 15-song, 95-minute performance from the Sondheim catalog that was both satisfying and a bit startling in how seamlessly polished it turned out to be. Mitchell and Ebersole traded solos, sang opening and closing duets and shed both anecdotal and artistic light on Sondheim’s compositions.
The unexpected snowstorm that hit the East Coast has left Stephen Sondheim stranded and unable to fly, so he will miss Saturday's performance of "Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
The Sondheim event will be rescheduled at a date to be established. But the show will go on, in a fashion; singers Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Ebersole, who are in Southern California, will perform a vocal program with musical accompaniment, beginning at 8 p.m.
Ticketholders to the Sondheim event, which was organized around an on-stage Q&A with the Broadway playwright, accompanied by Stokes-Mitchell and Ebersole singing selections from his songbook, will be admitted to Saturday's performance, and their tickets will be honored for the rescheduled Sondheim event at a future date.
-- Christopher Smith
Photo: Stephen Sondheim. Credit: Michael Lionstar
Veteran performer Elaine Stritch has performed in a lot of places, but until Saturday never in Manhattan's venerable Town Hall. Together, the two Broadway institutions are 176 years old and they suit each other: Both have given a lot over the decades and each remains quite capable of delivering a memorable evening.
Since age comes before beauty, a few words first about the Town Hall, 90 years old this season. Located half a block off Times Square on East 43rd Street, it is directly across the street from the even older Henry Miller's Theatre (lately renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre). These two architectural dowagers seem to face each other down, ignoring the passing parade, imperiously resolute hosts.
The Town Hall, which holds 1,500 seats, was conceived of by suffragettes as a public forum for lectures and discussions. Despite hosting various musical series and Broadway programs over the years, it has never functioned as a Broadway theater, but as a concert hall. Talk and song have co-existed, the range of events including Paul Robeson singing a program of "Negro music" in 1927, Sen. Joseph McCarthy stridently affirming the proposition "Should the Communist Party Be Outlawed in the United States?" in 1947 and Bob Dylan singing "his own compositions" in 1963.
Thus, hosting cabaret royalty like Stritch was no stretch. Wearing her trademark man's long-sleeved white dress shirt, black pantyhose and sensible heels, she ambled out and, fronting a six-piece combo, launched into "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story." She pretty much owned the joint from that entrance on.
While Anna Netrebko might be the opera world's fast-rising "it" girl of the moment, unexpected drama came elsewhere during Tuesday night's staging of the Metropolitan Opera's season-starting production of "Anna Bolena."
After a prolonged 45-minute intermission, the curtain at the Metropolitan Opera House didn't rise, and a company functionary, microphone in hand, appeared and said he had an announcement. The sight of this man prompted uneasy murmurings in the audience -- this was Netrebko's last performance in the title role, and despite a chilly greeting from critics, Donizetti's 1830 opera, receiving its first-ever staging at the Met, had been a hot ticket, with some seats through the "variable pricing" format reaching a reported $350 for this performance.
The unlikely news: not one, but two principals were dropping out of the performance at intermission due to colds they had been fighting through the first act. The murmurings ratcheted up to a groan.
Tuesday night’s performance by the St. Petersburg Symphony in front of more than 600 at the new Soka Performing Arts Center, the second appearance by an orchestra at the hall, confirms initial impressions that the Orange County venue welcomes all musical comers.
Yasuhisa Toyota -- largely acknowledged as the world’s leading acoustician -- has bestowed an acoustic alchemy that makes orchestras playing here sound nigh on splendid. And while there was a noticeable schism in Tuesday night’s program -- the St. Petersburg ensemble seemed more assured delivering Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony vs. Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto -- the hall itself again delivered sonic luster at almost every note.
Leaving aside the ups and downs of the performance under the baton of conductor Alexander Titov, and with guest pianist Xiayin Wang, the continuing revelations about how music sounds here are worth exploring.
Three years in the planning and two years in the construction, the acoustic design comes from Toyota, who most famously did Walt Disney Concert Hall. If anything, the sound here in this more intimate, multi-purpose hall has an even warmer sound.
Ballet often can wallow and even list in its storied past, in danger, to the casual eye, of seeming like a never-ending stream of sameness. So finding a contemporary choreographer who works in the form but reinvents it as he goes is a prized find.
Rooting out this kind of talent is one of the primary pleasures of the job for Judith O'Dea Morr, who programs dance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Morr has handled more than 50 companies performing 789 programs in the past 25 years.
An example of a Morr discovery: Boris Eifman, head of and chief choreographer for the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg in Russia. Before 2000, Eifman, now 65, was a complete unknown in the United States, an independent dance maker toiling on a shoestring budget to very little notice outside Russia’s borders.
Morr encountered his work and it clicked for her; she speaks with an almost maternal pleasure in charting his progress. “We were one of the institutions who were willing to take a chance on his work because his choreography was new -- some of his ballets were on familiar topics, but he added his own imagination to it,” said Morr.
"Aida" has always demanded a sizable landscape for Verdi's greatest operatic spectacle to bloom. Saturday night, on the desert floor below the imperious bulk of Masada adjacent to the Dead Sea, the epic work blossomed in a world premiere performance by the Israeli Opera.
As the centerpiece of a 10-day summer opera festival, now in its second year, the company has set down roots against a stunning natural backdrop with a 2,000-year-old history that symbolizes the resilience of the Jews against their enemies.
While summer outdoor opera festivals -- notably in the Roman amphitheaters in Verona, Italy, and Orange, France -- routinely marshall the hundreds of performers in an ancient setting necessary to put on "Aida," the Israelis have upped the ante by replacing traditional scenery with cutting-edge 4-D video technology and expansive lighting. The staging had many of the 8,000 opening-night attendees audibly gasping at what they saw.
For instance: At the start of the third act, a scene set along the Nile River, Aida approaches for a clandestine rendezvous with her secret love, Rademes. Here she arrived on camelback, while, in the distance, a train of seven camels paraded through the Dead Sea desert. Since livestock is a standard part of any "Aida," no surprises there, but the moment was more than a colorful touch -- in this setting, it felt like two millennia of time floating away.