By Norton Wright
It was another extraordinary afternoon on Sunday with SING! SING! SING!, the unique 9-person group of rehearsed singers led by Artistic Director Judy Wolman. Sprightly swinging on piano with Chris Conner on bass, Jack LeCompte on drums, Wolman and raconteur Howard Lewis melded the history of composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin with performances of twenty of their most remarkable songs.And invited the audience to sing along.
Why is a performance so special with the SING! SING! SING! group (6 women and 3 men, including the multi-talented host, Howard Lewis)? It’s because the singers have such a good time with the tunes that their enjoyment is happily infectious, and soon the whole audience is singing and sharing in the groovy toe-tapping.
And memory, too, plays a big role in the experience as SING! SING! SING!’s sparkling renditions of the Gershwins’ songs also led us to fondly recall Sarah Vaughan’s jazz take on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Chet Baker singing “But Not For Me,” Diane Schuur’s “The Man I Love,” Shirley Horn’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” and Louis and Ella on “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The myriad ways that the Gershwin Songbook can be rendered demonstrates why we regard that songbook as so great.
For those who have not experienced SING! SING! SING!, it should be noted that the group’s performance is much more than a “follow-the-bouncing ball” sing-along. There is something intensely touching in the sound of an audience, essentially of strangers, moved to sing together, to join the SING! SING! SING! performers in what emerges as a kind of surprise bonding, a rare coming-together, a veritable musical communion of performers and audience.
Facilitating that performer-audience interaction in Keyboard Concepts’ mini-theater on Sunday, lyric sheets were given to all audience members, and the sheets designed by Artistic Director Wolman not only clarified the oft confused definitions of “verse,” “refrain,” “chorus,” “bridge” and “release,” but also graphically indicated to the audience how a jazz vibe on the Gershwin tunes can be achieved by rhythmic pauses in the lyrics.
For Example: “Someone To Watch Over Me” (1926) Words by Ira Gershwin.
There’s a saying old, Says that love is blind, ____ Still we’re often told,
“Seek and ye shall find.” ____ So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had____ in mind. ____
Looking ev’rywhere, Haven’t found him yet; He’s the big affair I cannot forget.____
Only man I ever think of with regret. _____
I’d __ like _ to add his initial to my monogram. ___
Tell __me, __ Where is the shepherd for this __ lost ___ lamb? ____
There’s a somebody I’m longing to see. __ I hope that he __ turns out to be __
Someone who’ll watch ___ over _ me. ______
The audience participation on Sunday was robust and reminded one of those show biz evenings of old on NYC’s West End Avenue where Broadway folk would casually gather round an apartment’s piano and sing the night away. And there were some cool surprises from the SING! SING! SING! group as Ruth Davis stepped forward on stage to solo in a wise and dramatic rendition of “He Loves And She Loves.” Later, Judy Wolman and Howard Lewis drew Chuck Marso from the audience to sing the Gershwin brothers’ rarely heard but oh so optimistic “Beginner’s Luck,.
For a guest finale, invited up from the audience was Susan Watson — fresh from her year-long run in “Follies” at Washington’s Kennedy Center, on Broadway, and at the Ahmanson Theater here in Los Angeles — to sing a touching rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.”
Though the individual singers of SING! SING! SING! may not have jazz star names like “Deedles,, “Sassy,” “Dizzy,” or “Zoot,” they delivered a musical powerhouse performance and merit star recognition as follows — Tina Appel, David Beraru, Gloria Birnkrant, Ruth Davis, Pamela Jackson, Jackie Manfredi, Anita Royal, Judith Farber Weissman, Jerry Weissman.
Bottom line — for a unique and emotionally-moving musical experience, keep your internet eyes out for the monthly programs and venues of SING! SING! SING! You’ll have a wonderful time!