REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Poignant yet hopeful, Renee Zellweger’s star rises as ‘Judy’

Renee Zellweger has some experience as the underdog.  Before she portrayed Bridget Jones, the iconic character from the beloved Helen Fielding book, Bridget Jones’s Diaryreaders didn’t think she was the right fit for the film.  Renee isn’t British and she’s more glamorous than people imagined Bridget to be in the books.  Kate Winslet, Minnie Driver, and Rachel Weisz were among the British actresses considered for the role.

However, Renee Zellweger embodied Bridget Jones and although she ultimately won an Oscar for Ruby in the indie film Cold Mountain, Bridget became her most recognized role and she continues her role as Bridget in two film sequels.

I hadn’t established an opinion over whether she could portray Bridget Jones, having not read the books until after seeing the film.  However, I was among the doubters she could pull off Judy Garland in Judy, now playing in theatres.  Click here for more information and show times.

After seeing Judy Davis portray Judy Garland in the 2001 television mini-series, Life of Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows in which Judy Davis handily won an Emmy, it was difficult to imagine anyone else doing Judy that much justice.  However, Renee takes on Judy with surprising depth as a fading superstar who needs the prowess to gain back her former success.

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is a snapshot into the latter part of Judy Garland’s life.  She’s a woman hitting rock bottom as her dwindling finances make it difficult to support her children with an ex-husband weary of her less than stable lifestyle.  She is also an incomparable talent reaching for her former glory, despite the demons that have haunted her since childhood.

Judy Garland is also a bit of an underdog.  Legendary MGM studio producer Louis B. Mayer told Judy that there are prettier girls, thinner girls, and more glamorous girls, but Judy’s distinctive vocals set her apart from everyone else.

Renee is not unrecognizable as Judy as certain inflections still hint of Renee.  It is not a Judy Garland impression, though the makeup artists do a wonderful job of pouring Renee into Judy’s distinctive look.  Renee delivers a powerful, multi-faceted performance, singing every song in the film without lip syncing, especially in a lighter performance of Come Rain or Come Shine.  Her vocals may not be as extraordinary as Judy Garland’s, but she does capture her voice is a different way.   Renee depicts her prideful desperation with cynical humor, charm, and the loneliness Judy must have felt during this tumultuous time.

The film can be a little slow at times, but Renee is the reason for seeing this film.  Judy also has its poignant, tragic moments, but it is a loving tribute to a woman and her eternal search for happiness, despite the odds.

Kristin Chenoweth, making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut on April 30, talks favorite roles, latest album, and more

From a church choir soloist to an Emmy and Tony award-winning actress and singer, Kristin Chenoweth has been dazzling audiences on film, television, and on stage with her dynamic range and powerful vocals for over 20 years.  Currently promoting her sixth album, The Art of Elegance, she will be making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut for ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.   The evening will include a selection of her most popular songs, pop, American standards, and Broadway tunes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kristin Chenoweth talks about some of her favorite and most challenging roles, the inspiration behind her Grammy-nominated album, and a few surprises she has encountered along the way.   Click here for more on her upcoming projects.

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The Art of Elegance with Kristin Chenoweth Photo courtesy of Bryan Kasm

Sleepless Critic:  You’re an actress, singer, Broadway performer, and voiceover artist.  You sang in church at an early age.  Was singing your first love?

Kristin Chenoweth:  My first love was ballet.  I wanted to be a ballerina, but I didn’t have the flexibility in my feet.  I was so glad I had that training at a young age because I began to hear classical music and then I wanted to take piano.  I think I was about eight years old when I had my first solo in church and that’s kind of when things shifted for me.

SC:  You will be exploring a number of genres during your upcoming concert.  Pop, songbook classics, Broadway, a bit of everything you’re known for.  What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

KC:  I love all kinds of music and I shift in and out and change a lot.  Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Linda Ronstadt.  I get on these kicks and I’ll just listen to something over and over and it shifts all the time.  There are so many artists I admire, but that’s what I am doing right now.

SC:  Have you ever had a role that you had certain expectations of and you ended up totally surprised by on Broadway or otherwise?

KC:  Absolutely, I think playing the female lead in Promises, Promises.  I knew it would be a challenge for me to play her, but it was really surprising how much I fell in love with her and came to really understand her.  There’s a big part of me who really knew who this person was.  It might not have been what fans wanted necessarily, but it is important as an artist to not always do what is expected.  The part scared me and that is how I knew I needed to do it.

SC:  You won a Tony as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. What has been your favorite role so far?

KC:  On Broadway, it is definitely Lily Garland in On the 20th Century.  It was a role that required a lot of my own skill set and it is an operetta with tons of movement and high brow comedy.  I probably never worked harder, but it was extremely gratifying.

SC:  You have such a great vocal range.   Was there a note that you discovered you could hit that took you by surprise?

KC:  I remember being in a voice lesson while at Oklahoma City University.  My teacher was vocalizing with me.  I didn’t study voice growing up.  I just sang in choir and was in drama in high school.  That was my training, so I never had a voice lesson.  When I went to OCU, she vocalized with me up to a high F sharp above high C.  I knew that was high, but I couldn’t believe it.

For many years, I sang arias that required a high F and I noticed it’s maybe not there like it used to be.  I would say I am living in more of the D or E flat area, but that was a crazy high note.

SC:  When a song is particularly challenging, how do you overcome it?

KC:  It’s so funny, we were just talking about one of the songs from Promises, Promises the other day with Michael Orland, my music director on this tour.  The song is called, Knowing When to Leave by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  I just told him that it hammered away at my voice eight times a week because it is very repetitive in an area of my voice that is what we call passaggio.  That song scared me.

Finally in rehearsals, I thought less about being note perfect and more about the character.  I find that when you let go, you really think about what you are singing and mean what you are singing.  It hasn’t always gone that way and I don’t always make the right decisions, but that is when you let go, you can get there.  That song was a big challenge for me and to this day, I think it’s hard, but I worked on it, wrote it down, lived it, and warmed up to it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll pull it out again.

SC:  The Art of Elegance is your latest album.  What was the inspiration behind it and why did you choose American songbook classics this time around?

KC:  Basically, I made a list of a bunch of songs and it kept pointing to this era.  I love the lyrics.  I love the melody of its time and they are some of the greatest songs ever written by composers such as Gershwin and Cole Porter.  I didn’t know The Very Thought of You very well.  I think I heard it a couple of times and then I really started to investigate the song.  That happened a lot on this album and now, of course, I just feel like I want to do a part two.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Celebrity Series of Boston presents ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston, Massachusetts on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.  Celebrity Series of Boston just announced their 2017-18 season.  Subscriptions, gift cards, group, and student discounts available.  Click here for more on their upcoming season.

Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

Celebrity Series of Boston’s 78th season boasts big shows and return of Stave Sessions concert series

Having kicked off another sensational season with the return of Pianos in Boston, Celebrity Series of Boston’s 78th season has been offering a broad spectrum of captivating performances in their 41 show lineup including the debut of the Vertigo Dance Company, the Berliner Philharmoniker led by conductor Sam Rattle, as well as Argentine cello star, Sol Gabetta with French pianist Bertrand Chamayou.  Celebrity Series of Boston is taking audiences through the winter and spring with mesmerizing performances by Yo-Yo Ma, The Art of Elegance with Kristin Chenoweth, KODO’s 35th anniversary, and the return of the concert series, Stave Sessions.  Click here for more information and the full calendar.

Presented on the Berklee College of Music campus and sponsored by Susan and Michael Sonis, Margaret Eagle, and Eli Rapoport, Celebrity Series of Boston offers five consecutive nights of dynamic, live music in jazz, classical, indie, Moroccan, and contemporary flavors.  Each night has its own unique feel and takes place from Tuesday, March 21 through Saturday, March 25 at 8:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, March 21, the music festival kicks off with YMusic, a group that combines pop and classical styles followed by award-winning tenor sax player Melissa Aldana on Wednesday, March 22.  Electrifying, 18-piece big band orchestra Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society takes the stage by storm on Thursday, March 23 and Tigue and Innov Gnawa combine Moroccan gnawa music with a contemporary percussion trio on Friday, March 24.  The final night features indie music group, Blond Redhead featuring Acme on Saturday, March 25.  A festival pass gains access to all five shows.

Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

 

Jessica Lang Dance, Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, Alvin Ailey, and Stave Sessions part of Celebrity Series of Boston’s extraordinary season

With close to an 80-year history of bringing inspirational and highly acclaimed national and international live entertainment to Boston, Celebrity Series sets the stage in 2017 with an extraordinary lineup that includes Broadway star and actress Kristin Chenoweth, the return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the annual Stave Sessions, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Alvin Ailey’s “Odetta” Photo courtesy of Mike Strong

Making its spectacular Boston debut, Celebrity Series of Boston presents Jessica Lang Dance from Friday, January 27 to Saturday, January 28 at the Bach Center Shubert Theatre.  Winner of the 2014 Bessie Award, NY-based dance troupe, Jessica Lang Dance, based on Jessica Lang’s award-winning choreography, weaves classical ballet with stunning, contemporary artistry.

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Jessica Lang Dance “Spectrum” Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

After a sold out 2013 recital, the Danish String Quartet returns to NEC’s Jordan Hall for an unforgettable evening of innovative, powerful music featuring works by Beethoven and Schnittke.  The Danish Quartet performs for one night only on Saturday, January 28 at 8 p.m.  Single tickets are available.

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Danish String Quartet Photo of Caroline Bittencourt

On Saturday, February 4, award-winning soprano Susanna Phillips will make her Celebrity Series of Boston solo debut at NEC’s Jordan Hall at 8 p.m.  Accompanied by pianist Myra Huang, Phillips is a captivating singing-actor and recitalist.

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Award-winning soloist Susanna Phillips Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Celebrating the works of legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald for her 100th birthday, jazz violinist Regina Carter performs Simply Ella on Friday, February 10 at the Sanders Theatre.  Carter’s album, Simply Ella is coming soon.

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Jazz violinist Regina Carter pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald Photo courtesy of David Katzenstein

Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.