David Borman with Gayle King. photo: DECCO

Tis the Season: A Jazzy Holiday Celebration

Derby City Chamber Orchestra
David Borman – Artistic Director/conductor
Christopher Wolfzorn – assistant conductor
Gayle King – guest pianist/soloist
Sara Gettelfinger – guest soloist

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Ah, tis the season that many of us are hap, hap, happy that the holidays are here with lots of choices of concerts that celebrate the yuletide sounds.

After a too-quiet year due to COVID, we are now in a more comfortable place with groups ready and willing to put on a show for the masses, with proper protocol in place, of course.

One such group is the Derby City Chamber Orchestra (DECCO). Honestly, this group is very new to me, so color me excited to have an opportunity to hear a new band of instrumentalists and “see” what they had to offer. Imagine my delight when I learned that the DECCO was partnering with legendary songstress Gayle King and local singer “done” good, Sara Gettelfinger.  

Under the direction of David Borman, the small ensemble began the evening with a series of familiar tunes, including Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite”. Overall, the sound was quite pleasing, but I found that the brass section was leaning a bit on the sharp side of the sound spectrum. I wasn’t sure if that was intentional, but it did distract from the balance.

Pianist Gayle King has had a storied 40+ year career performing with the likes of Cab Calloway, among others. We were graced with jazzy interpretations of “Merry Christmas, Darling” and “Let It Snow”. While I really enjoyed these, Ledisi’s “Children Go Where I Send Thee” had a fantastic gospel feel to it.

Ms. Gettelfinger has been a staple of Louisville area theater for many years, even as she was tripping the light fantastic on the Great White Way. It was delightful to see and hear her once again. And working with Ms. King made it a double delight.

Ms. Gettelfinger showed her prowess in bringing classics such as “My Favorite Things” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” to life. Before beginning a lovely “On This December Night”, with Ms. King providing harmony, Sara shared a heart-warming story of her coming back home to Southern Indiana and reconnecting with her childhood friend, who is now her husband.

Ms. King offered up her prodigious piano skills to a Christmas Medley that included cool renditions of “Lucy and Linus”, from A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. There was the distinctive melody of “The Dreidel Song” in the arrangement, which of course is a Hanukkah tune, so it was a little incongruous to hear it as part of a Christmas-centric montage of songs.

Speaking of Hanukkah, perhaps the most beautiful piece of the evening was Samburski’s “Ner Li (I Have a Candle)”, traditionally performed in celebration of the Festival of Lights. Beginning Acappella, Ms. King, holding a candle, started at the back of the host church and walked up the aisle to the front, singing the original Yiddish, before sitting down at the keyboard and shifting into the English translation. A very moving moment.

Ms. King launched into a jazzy piano-driven piece by Styne & Cahn titled “The Christmas Waltz”. Just like the name suggests, the piece was filled with that Christmastime feel but I think it could have used some upright bass and drums with a top hat.

Assistant Conductor Christopher Wolfzorn joined the fray and led the orchestra in a delightful rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, looking quite natural with the baton in hand.

Finally, Ms. Gettelfinger joined the orchestra, and Ms. King and ended the event with “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and a jazz-influenced “Hallelujah”, a la The Messiah Cantata by Handel, which got the crowd on their feet with hoots, hollers, and applause.

While the whole of the concert was actually quite entertaining and fun, it was not without some hiccups. During a darling interaction between Gayle and Maestro Borman, Ms. King reminded him that a cardinal no-no is that you never play over the singer. Unfortunately, that issue was a problem throughout the evening. The sound mixing was a bit messy. Also, because of these issues, our soloists seemed to be straining to be heard and understood, therefore sounding a bit distorted.

Sound issues notwithstanding, with a lovely venue, great selection of songs, and some heart and soul from the musicians, I believe that the DECCO could be around for a while and I look forward to their next performance.

I also want to commend the DECCO for raising monies for Gilda’s Club of Louisville with this performance. This organization is a boon to those who are and have experienced cancer and is an essential part of our healing community.

Bravi Tutti!!

Tis the Season: A Jazzy Holiday Celebration

December 4, 2021

Derby City Chamber Orchestra
First Presbyterian Church
Jeffersonville, Indiana

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.