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.