The Schermerhorn hosted an extroidinary, albeit somewhat impromptu, Pops Concert last evening with a last minute change from scheduled Conductor Marvin Hamlisch, who became ill and couldn’t perform, to Conductor/Trumpeter Doc Severinsen and The San Miguel Five plus banjoist Alison Brown.
The evening began with resident Conductor Albert-George Schram leading the orchestra in an upbeat, eclectic mix of original and classic Americana selections, featuring banjoist and vocalist Alison Brown. As always, Schram was a ball of positive energy and a sheer pleasure to watch as he led the musicians on a merry chase through a variety of lively music.
Alison Brown joined the symphony beginning with “Under the Five Wire”, a lovely and lively piece of music with a jazz sound and a bluegrass edge. Brown’s tender touch on the banjo, mixed with the orchestral string section, softened the instrumental piece, giving it a romantic flair.
The next song, “The Wonderful Sea Voyage of Holy St. Brendan” was my favorite, composed by Brown, inspired by a documentary on the Discovery Channel about the same. This piece was more intricate; and if you know the story, allowing you to visualize the sea journey with movement, mystery, magic and monks.
The second half of the show began with a much different feel, as Doc Severinsen filed onto the stage along with the other San Miguel Five members, who perform jazzy Latin music, featuring Doc’s still virtuosic trumpet playing.
To me, the star of the evening was Nashville violinist Billy Contreras, who Doc said he’d found on YouTube and with whom he’d waited a long time to perform. Contreras, considered one of the foremost improvising musicians of his generations, can perform in a wide range of musical styles and has been described by violinist Christian Howes as “the most amazing jazz violinist ever…Not only is his facility amazing, but his deep understanding of harmony and the language of music, as well as his endless imagination…I could fill a book with ramblings about how amazing Billy Contreras is.” It was obvious how much Severinsen thought of the talented young man, when after an incredible violin piece, he walked over and kissed the violinist on the forehead; a touching gesture indeed.
Severinsen’s years of experience with quick witted repartee during his days with Johnny Carson paid off as he entertained the audience with amusing jokes and anecdotes. At one time, after having unbelievably talented guitarist Gutierrez introduce a song in flawlessly gorgeous Spanish, Severinsen impishly announced, “this is why we can’t get booked in Artizona.” Wearing bright orange trousers, a vividly patterned shirt and a glitter emblazoned jacket, he said he’d dressed as a tribute to the Vols, which wasn’t a stretch since he resides in Knoxville, he jokingly said. There was no doubt to his sharp wit and still sharp talents.
All in all, it adds up to be a completely delightful evening, one you do not want to miss. Doc Severinsen and The San Migues Five with Alison Brown will be at the Schermerhorn through February 4th, the cost is $44 to $129 and the enjoyment is priceless.