Peggy Sue Dunigan

Hamlisch, Ambassadors, and an ingenue enchant Milwaukee audience

By - May 11th, 2009 11:05 pm
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee

A five-star showcase of musical excellence happened this past weekend with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra‘s Salute to American Jazz. Under the direction of principal Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the true American musical tradition of jazz filled the main stage at The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts with tributes to Irving Berlin, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington while featuring some superb guest artists.

hamlisch_profileFrom the minute Hamlisch stepped on stage during the Saturday program, the hall soared as the  Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony/Pulitzer Prize-winning composer paid homage to audience member Mary Youth, who was celebrating her 101st birthday. When Hamlisch asked her to divulge the secret of long life, Youth emphatically stated, “I laughed my way through life.”

It became the theme for the incomparable evening with piano and percussion front and center while Hamlisch comfortably conversed with the audience in a cabaret style. Full orchestrations of Berlin melodies aurally allowed everyone to relax into the seats. Following this, Hamlisch related that when Louis Armstrong brought his New Orleans style of music to Chicago with songs such as ‘When The Saints Go Marching In‘, that “Satchmo would bend notes to make the trumpet sing.”

Afterwards, Hamlisch officially introduced the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors replete in dress blues with gold trim. The 19 members tour 100 days per year, representing their love for music and along with the other 100,000 U.S. soldiers stationed around the world. The band’s excellence with solo performances on trumpet, trombone, saxophone and bass punctuated the evening’s performance and received a standing ovation.

Following an intermission, Hamlisch employed improvisation as a vital element to any jazz salute. He nodded to a Jazz Ambassador band member who would play a true rendition of the blues, and the spontaneous compositions proved to be a highlight of the evening.

Hamlisch said that this is “when the musician plays what he’s feeling inside, what happens at that particular moment.”

Another highlight happened at the end of the original program when a Gene Kroupa drum solo performed by the Jazz Ambassador percussionist complemented the band’s orchestration of Sing, Sing, Sing. Watching the drummer move his hands over the skins and cymbals in staccato and syncopated rhythms capped this moving evening.

But then another stole the spotlight in the form of 15-year-old Canadian vocalist Nikki Yanofsky, who famously performed on her 14th birthday at Carnegie Hall and later that year with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The teenage prodigy assumed the stage presence of a singer far into her musical future by belting out a swank rendition of God Bless the Child.

The next number proved to be a familiar but awe-inspiring arrangement of Old McDonald Had A Farm. Who could have thought a childhood rhyme could produce goosebumps? Yanofsky will surely ignite an appreciation for jazz while she continues to perfect her vocal genius.

In a spectacular encore the audience would always remember, Hamlisch himself accompanied the gifted Yanofsky at the piano with the number one classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow. As the final strains of “Why, oh, why can’t I?” overcame Uihlein hall, the audience wished only for more.

At the end, Hamlisch encouraged the audience to keep alive this unique American heritage of jazz by asking them to bring children to these concerts. The ebulient form conjures the capability to mesmerize the human heart at any age, from 15 to 101.

((Bootleg Youtube video showing off Yanofsky’s ability from Sunday’s performance. Watch it before it gets yanked! Or, visit her website for some video including that version of God Bless the Child))

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us