|A Jazz Nativity presented by Chelsea Opera
We are very close to the Winter Solstice; darkness comes early. So...what do we need? We need light! When do we need it? We need it now! And last night, at Christ and Saint Stephen's Church, Chelsea Opera gave it to us. This annual event is growing too large for the venue. Extra chairs were squeezed in to allow everyone to share in the light. The title of the program "Bending Toward the Light...a Jazz Nativity" is particularly appropriate.
There was something for everyone, including a tap-dancing Balthazar (or was it Melchior or Caspar?). There was a prologue and an epilogue read by Charles Osgood. There were readings from The Gospels. There was a scene of the nativity with Mary (Amy London) and Joseph (Pete McGuiness). There was a powerful Archangel (Brenda Feliciano) and a couple Guardian Angels (Dylan Pramuk and Anne Phillips herself, who also composed, arranged, and conducted the piece). Producers were Ms. Phillips and Leonarda Priore of Chelsea Opera.
Direction was by Beth Ann Kennedy, who kept thing moving along swiftly. Choreography was by Sasha Spielvogel; lighting was by Alexander Bartenieff, and the colorful costuming was by Susan Falon. The evening honored Ms. Phillips' late husband, tenor saxophonist Bob Kindred who passed on this year.
Kindred Spirits (wonderful name!) was created by Mr. Kindred and Ms. Phillips to provide musical education to children (wonderful goal!). What a legacy! Among its projects is the Children's Jazz Choirs in which inner-city children learn American songs and give concert performances accompanied by New York's finest jazz musicians.
Speaking of whom, we heard a generous sample in the persons of pianist Adam Asarnow, trumpeteer Charlie Caranicas, trombonist Art Baron, and saxophonists Scott Robinson and Jon Gordon. Percussion was provided by Tim Horner on drums and Candido on conga drums. There was a splendid bass solo by Dean Johnson.
The Three Kings bore artistic gifts; they were portrayed by Paquito D'Rivera who played the clarinet like nobody's business and Ingrid Jensen who did the same on the trumpet, and the tap dancing Maurice Chestnut who was joined at one point by Max Pollak.
A lovely "Silent Night" was arranged by Ms. Phillips and performed by Mr. Robinson. Shepherds David Gordon and Jesse Malgieri sang the original "One Star" by Ms. Phillips, who also arranged "Angels We Have Heard On High" for the company.
We particularly enjoyed young Emily Gu Siegel who sang "Bending Towards the Light"; Mr. Kindred wrote the music and Ms. Phillips provided the lyrics, along with Henry Timm.
An original scat chorus by Roy Kral for "What Child Is This?" earned our aural attention with its interesting harmonies and nonsense syllables which somehow came across as a whole new language. Another highlight was a piano solo by Mr. Asarnow that was composed by Dave and Iola Brubeck for his "Fiesta de la Posada"--it was filled with spirit and rhythm. It is interesting to note that Mr. Brubeck was involved in the birth of this project 30 years ago. Since that time, the work has been performed around the United States, several venues around New York City including Birdland, and was performed in Spanish at B.B. King's.
What more could one ask than a spiritual celebration cum jazz jam session, giving all the attendees a bit of light in these dark days. Trenta anni piu!"
(c) meche kroop