Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Jim Cullum Jazz Band Porgy and Bess Live

The Jim Cullum Jazz Band
Porgy and Bess Live
Riverwalk Records

For 25 years, the public radio program Riverwalk Jazz examined and performed jazz from the first half of the twentieth century. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band curated and performed the music with numerous musical guess. The program ended at the end of 2015, but now a new release by Cullum has brought us "Porgy and Bess Live," a 1992 performance of the classic Gershwin Jazz Opera from The Landing in San Antonio, Texas for the program. Cullum's band included the leader on cornet; Allen Vaché on clarinet; Mike Pittsley on trombone; John Sullivan on piano; Ed Torres on drums, Don Mopstick on bass; and Howard Elkins on banjo and guitar with the jazz transcription by John Sheridan with Randy Reinhart, Allen Vaché and Jim Cullum.

This is an all instrumental rendition of this classic work with the late William Warfield, the great concert artist who arguably was the most famous actor to portray Porgy, providing narration linking the performances. Cullum leads his classic jazz band (think about traditional New Orleans and Chicago jazz) through such memorable numbers as "Summertime," "My Man's Gone Now," "I Got Plenty of Nuthin'," "Buzzard Song," "Bess, Your My Woman Now," "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Loves You Porgy," and "Oh Bess, Where's My Bess."

This is a jazz transcription of virtually every song from the opera, not simply the most famous numbers like Miles Davis-Gil Evans' famous collaboration, so there are songs done here that are not on that recording or say the famous Ella Fitzgerald-Louis Armstrong recording. Vaché's clarinet takes the role of Bess, Clara or the grieving Serena, while the rougher male voices of Porgy and Crown are portrayed by cornet with plunger mute. The other instruments play gentler solos and provide relief and pacing according to Cullum. This is a charming, lively performance that was well received by the live audience and all the horns and pianist Sheridan get plenty of solo space to exhibit their melodicism, invention and drive .

At the conclusion of the performance there is an interview with William Warfield dealing with the admitted stereotypes as well the Metropolitan Opera's resistance to using an all-black cast (they wanted white performers in black face) which led Gershwin to stage this originally in a theatre. There is plenty of charm and lively classic jazz to be heard on this release that provides a different jazz take on an American classic.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366).

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