Ella + Louis: All That Jazz
Bob Bernhardt, Conductor
Marva Hicks, Vocalist
Byron Stripling, Trumpet
Robert Breithaupt, Percussionist
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2016 Annettte Skaggs. All rights reserved.
If you have ever attended a POPS series concert under the baton of Bob Bernhardt, celebrating his 35th year with the Louisville Orchestra, you know he is quick with a corny joke to begin the evening. But this particular night the good Maestro deferred those duties to special guest trumpeter Byron Stripling. With his charming, folksy tales, wit, and groan–inducing puns, it is no wonder that this is a return visit for this talented performer. If you are not familiar with Mr. Stripling, he is known far and wide within the orchestral community with a pedigree in academia and stage. One of his most notable performances is his turn as the lead in Broadway’s Satchmo.
The orchestra begins with Nick Larocca’s, Tiger Rag, featuring Mr. Stripling’s amazing trumpet skills, including a jaw-dropping display of breath control. As the name of the program implies, this was an evening set to pay homage to two jazz greats, and we began with Louis Armstrong staples like, St. James Infirmary, and St. Louis Blues, made famous by the Jazz Man’s incredible trumpet and bass tones, rich with almost impossible to match Scat vocals. There is no question that Mr. Stripling can jump, jive, and wail on a trumpet, bringing out some of the most incredible sounds that I have heard on that instrument. While singing these greats I sensed that when Mr. Stripling would bring his baritone register into the grovel-like timbre associated with Louis’ singing, it wasn’t with ease. He sounded very close, almost indistinguishable, but his “normal” voice sounded closer to Cab Calloway – and that’s not too shabby either.
The other tribute of the evening was to the first lady of American song, Ella Fitzgerald. How lucky are we that we got to hear the marvelous Marva Hicks sing some of Ella’s greatest solo hits and those with Louis. To say that Ms. Hicks knows her way around a microphone would be an understatement. With a body of work that includes performing with the legendary Lena Horne and even Michael Jackson, she has been seen on the Broadway stage, most recently in the smash hit, Motown the Musical. She came on swinging with, A Tisket, A Tasket, and didn’t let up until her last song of the evening, in tandem with Mr. Stripling: the classic, Sweet Georgia Brown. As great as those standards are, she really showed her chops with her Ira Gershwin set. While fun and whimsical duets of S’Wonderful and It Ain’t Necessarily So, had the audience swaying and bopping their heads, it was her solos of Summertime, and My Man’s Gone Now, that you could feel the emotional tug at the ol’ heart.
With a fantastic rhythmic section headed by drum star Bob Breithaupt that included piano and upright bass, all of the jazz standards were alive, but when you throw the talents of the Louisville Orchestra into the mix, it adds a whole other layer of coolness.
With an evening that was filled with jazzy notes, great stories of Ella and Louis interspersed throughout, Mr. Stripling’s most affable hosting abilities, it was a marvelous opening to what is sure to be the Bee’s Knees.
Ella + Louis: All That Jazz
September 17, 2016
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 W. Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.