Last night the Delightful Mother™ and I went along to the Opera House to see Branford Marsalis play with the Sydney Symphony.
I was lucky enough to be brought up with a divine mix of classical & jazz. My mum is the classic buff – and lots of piano pieces, operas and sometimes too much Gilbert & Sullivan (I didn’t realise that until much later of course). She took me to the first opera performed at the Sydney Opera House – The Magic Flute, when I was five. My dad was the jazz buff. During the late 40’s & the 50’s, he went to see every Big Band that toured the UK. When he arrived in Australia, it was with a collection of the sharpest suits and Brothel Creepers that suburban Sydney had seen.
So. Back to Marsalis. We were lucky enough to have seen his brother, Wynton, play at the Opera House about a decade ago with his own jazz band. Branford, however, is currently interested in bridging the gap between jazz and classical. I wondered if some of the audience there tonight knew that?
The first piece, with Marsalis on soprano sax, was Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. It was originally written for Benny Goodman on clarinet, but the sop sax was a pretty choice. A lovely, jaunty piece, with a few dischords thrown in for interest. A bit of light jazz - but not muzak - using just the string section, piano and harp.
Second up, Marsalis took a break for Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks. I guess I should listen to the Rite of Spring again sometime because this was very cute. I could see a couple of insane bumblebees barrelling along doing a bumblebee version of wubbsing… then thinking ‘ooh, time for a nap’… waking up and having an argument about whose turn it was to wash the dishes… and then getting back to the pollen-gathering. Funky. All with a stripped-down racing-version 15-piece plus Conductor.
Next up was Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone. To tell you the truth, this one didn’t stick much in my head. The Delightful Mother™ thought it was a bit jumpy. I didn’t think it was the right kind of jumpy. You could hear the jazz influence, but nothing too spectacular.
After interval they performed Debussy’s Rhapsody for Alto Saxophone, with almost full orchestra (light on brass & woodwind). A really lovely thing, this was – billowy, romantic (in that graceful way), fullsome, with Persian/Moorish phrases running through it. Apparently Debussy wrote this in spite of himself, as he detested the look of the ungainly saxophone, but was commissioned by a wealthy American lady who had taken up the sax to improve her asthma! This is one of the earliest pieces written for the sax, and it went down a treat with the audience. Both the Delightful Mother™ and I could hear a big influence on MGM musicals in decades to come (not an insult).
To end, Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije –Suite, Op 60. I would have to say that most of this was definitely ForBattle! music – it started off with what sounded like a small-town military band trying to march through a village as noisily as possible. Lots of Tarantarahs, and BOOMS on the bass drum. The rest of the village is all oom-pah, Fiddler-on-the-Roof, yearning, beautiful melodies… until the military band came back right through the middle of it. And towards the end, a lovely section called Troika which some of you would know. It sounds just like a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow with bridles and sleigh-bells jingling. Pretty!
Cheers, applause, Conductor bows, Marsalis bows, Concert Master bows… etc… etc… I confess to be disappointed they didn’t end on a Marsalis solo piece, as he had been tucked into the orchestra for Lieutenant Kije. Come on Sydney Symphony, don’t you know you’re meant to finish with the headlining act?
Then he comes back on for an encore. Yes! Marsalis and the pianist play a sweet, slow thing. It’s like a jazz lullaby. Behind us are a family with two (well-behaved) boys, and one of them is asleep. That makes me smile. Jazz is full of happy, comforting, secure memories & feelings for me and I can fall asleep to it at the drop of a hat for those reasons. Yes, even in the Opera House (a while ago now, and it was fabulous music too). The music is so lovely, it makes my heart sigh.
More applause etc etc… we got an encore, and so everyone is well pleased.
Except Marsalis then comes back and beckons one of the young bass players out to the front. What? They proceed to jam On the Sunny Side of the Street. How cool, and like a gent, Marsalis gives the bass a chance to solo (very good). It brings the house down.
Thunderous applause, etc etc… so Marsalis gets another of the bass players out and together they start jamming something which I think starts off as Beale St Blues (could be wrong). The Conductor slips in behind the grand piano and takes them by surprise (ooh err). For his solo he slides some of Debussy’s Rhapsody in, and they turn off Beale St to heaven knows where… and I swear to god, I thought the rest of the orchestra was going to light up cigarellos and start clicking their fingers, daddyo.
It was so GOOD!
Then we had to go home.
All good things must come to an end… and this was A Good Thing.