December 2006

Bob DeAngelis & His “Champagne Symphony” Pops Orchestra
The Coronation Of A King
December 31, 2006 Roy Thomson Hall Toronto
To Dream – Carnegie Hall 1938
by Paul J. Youngman with photo by David Susilo
The King of Swing, a tribute to Benny Goodman starring Bob DeAngelis, John Macleod, and the Champagne Symphony Pops Orchestra, featured some of Canada’s top musicians. Benny Goodman’s big band performance on January 16, 1938 at Carnegie Hall earned him the title “The King Of Swing.” About that band, he said “I think the band I had at Carnegie Hall . . . was the best . . . I ever had.” (from the book Jazz by Ward and Burns).

The dream for Bob DeAngelis and company as stated in the evening’s program was: “Today Roy Thomson Hall, Tomorrow Carnegie Hall”. An ideal, an ambition or aspiration define the word dream and why not dream? After all, some dreams do come true. A dream came true in 2004 for Bob DeAngelis when he won a Juno award for Best Instrumental Album with Italian Love Songs. It was obviously a proud achievement for Bob DeAngelis and he made mention of it during the performance.

On this night the setting at Roy Thomson Hall is beautiful; the stage is decked out in a festive manner, with balloons, ribbons and glitter. The orchestra files onto the stage in a nonchalant manner, everyone dressed in formal attire. The musicians go through some warm up exercises, providing a nice background for a review of the evening’s program. As we get closer to show time the drummer Lorne Nehring, dressed in a white tuxedo, takes his place at the front of the string section and goes through a warm up routine. Violin virtuoso Lenny Solomon walks out on stage and is immediately recognized with applause. He turns to the audience and offers a bow. The forty chairs on stage are now filled; the seats of Roy Thompson Hall are mostly filled.

John MacLeod and Bob DeAngelis in white tuxedos, in contrast to the orchestra musicians who are dressed in black, take to the stage and are greeted with a polite, yet enthusiastic response from the audience. MacLeod steps up upon his conductor’s podium and places his cornet on the floor next to him. As he stands, he raises his conductor’s baton and “Lets Dance” fills the concert hall. A full luscious sound cascades from the stage with a swinging rhythmic beat, and on top, the clean, clear and crisp clarinet sound of Bob DeAngelis rings true in fine tribute to Benny Goodman. As John MacLeod would state later in the performance, “Bob DeAngelis is a world class clarinettist.”

The show had similarities to the Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall performance, in that it involved integration, the integration of a string section with a big band. The orchestra had some big names from other bands, such as members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and members of the new band, Bowfire — director Lenny Solomon (violin) and Wendy Solomon (cello). Some other bands were also well represented: John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Hilario Duran’s Latin Jazz Orchestra and many others.

Bob DeAngelis
The 1938 concert featured some small group settings and Mr. DeAngelis made sure to incorporate small groups as well. The quintet of DeAngelis (clarinet), Danny McErlain (piano), Jack McFadden (bass), Lorne Nehring (drums) and Frank Wright (vibraphone) performed an exciting, double time version of “Shine.” A highlight small group moment featured Lenny Solomon (violin) on Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good”; the group also included Bob DeAngelis, Scott Irvine (tuba), Laurie Bower (trombone), John MacLeod (cornet), Frank Wright and Lorne Nehring. This is a group that could have played all night long, swinging wonderfully and producing some great instrumental breaks.

The first set also featured some beautiful vocals from the strikingly beautiful Melissa Stylianou who was in fine form and doing what she does best, putting heart and soul into the standards. Ms. Stylianou takes these classics and makes them her own, “You Turn The Tables On Me” was so nice, and with a string section complementing her smooth, smoky, sensual voice — outstanding. “It Had To Be You,” “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve,” “And The Angels Sing,” “After You’ve Gone” and possibly the best version ever of “East Of The Sun” were all songs that she nailed, Ms. Stylianou deserves her own orchestra.

The show at Roy Thomson Hall and the show at Carnegie Hall in 1938, share more than a few similarities, from world class musicians, composers and arrangers, to those classic songs as mentioned above, as well as the swing era anthem “Sing Sing Sing” that saw members of the audience who were seated up on the stage of Carnegie Hall, due to the over selling of the hall, start dancing. The show at this night’s performance wasn’t sold out, but there were dancers on stage, professional swing dancers from the group A2D2 and members Julie, Elisa and Samantha DeAngelis. Their favourite gig just happens to be, “Performing with their dad Bob DeAngelis, whenever the opportunity arises.” The dancers put out some serious excitement during the “Tribute To B.G. Medley: Moon Glow, Avalon, Goodbye and Sing Sing Sing.”

An ambitious project, a very nice concert, a wonderful place to be on New Years Eve, with some great playing and singing as well as that ingredient that made swing so appealing to the youth of the thirties and forties, a whole lot of fun. When you look at the line-up that Mr. Goodman assembled for that famed concert of 1938, you begin to realize the significance and the Dream of attempting to recreate that once in a lifetime performance.

When you look at the line-up that Mr. Goodman assembled you have to take that opening quote, “I think the band I had at Carnegie Hall . . . was the best . . . I ever had.” as an understatement. Mr. Goodman realized the significance of that concert; it was a first for jazz on many levels. The first time jazz was performed at Carnegie Hall, in fact, the first time jazz was performed in any concert hall, the first time an integrated band had performed in a concert hall (and in this case, it was not just a big band integrated with strings). Goodman assembled a phenomenal band, borrowing from the Ellington and Basie bands and even using Count Basie himself for a small group setting. This was one of the defining moments of jazz history and thankfully, it was recorded and is well documented.

January 16, 1938 — Carnegie Hall, New York, New York

concert personnel
Benny Goodman (vocals, clarinet)
Martha Tilton (vocals)
Hymie Schertzer, Johnny Hodges (soprano & alto saxophones)
Lester Young (tenor saxophone)
Harry Carney (baritone saxophone)
George Koenig, Art Rollini, Babe Russin (reeds)
Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Harry James, Cootie Williams, Buck Clayton (trumpet); Bobby Hackett (cornet)
Red Ballard, Vernon Brown (trombone)
Lionel Hampton (vibraphone)
Jess Stacy, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie (piano)
Alan Reuss, Freddie Greene (guitar)
Harry Goodman, Walter Page (bass)
Gene Krupa, Jo Jones (drums).

Kudos for trying a re-creation go to all involved in the Roy Thomson Hall 2006 performance: Bob DeAngelis, John MacLeod, Melissa Stylianou, Frank Wright, Jack McFadden, Danny McErlain, Lorne Nehring, Les Altt, Bill McBirnie, Adele Pierre, Frank Morphy, Jim Vivian, Brian O’Kane, Ross Edwards, Alex “K” Kundakcioglu, Gary Pattison, Peter Lutek, Valerie Sylvester, Sheila Smyth, Erica Goodman, John Brownell, Daniel Morphy, Moshe Hammer, James MacDonald, Louise Pauls, Scott Irvine, Joan Watson, Mary McGeer, Adele Armin, George Meanwell, Jill Vitols, Daniel Kushner, Colin Murray, Dave Dunlop, Calum MacLeod, Rachael Macleod, Dominique Laplante, Lenny Solomon, Wendy Solomon, Elizabeth Gowen, Doug Gibson, Laurie Bower, Mary-Katherine Finch, Karen Rottenburg, Janet Anderson, Julian Knight, Elizabeth Morris, Joseph Orlowski, Carol Fujino, Ron Mah, Dancers of A2D2, Producer – Joni DeAngelis.

Wow, that’s a lot of talent!

When I asked my mother, a teen during the swing era, who was king of swing, Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw? She replied without hesitation (she’s 86), “Benny Goodman for sure, he was the king, but Artie Shaw’s bands were a lot of fun too."

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
• • • • • •
David Susilo
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The Live Music Report

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