On Saturday night, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra presented Symphonic Swing in the first of their new ‘two-performance, one-night’ format. Last season, the performances were all at 7 pm, with a two sets split by a 10 minute intermission. And they were selling out weeks in advance. A good problem, but a problem none the less.
The resident big band decided to try something new. In order to have room for all the jazz fans, the CJO will now play two 90-minute shows at 7 pm and 10 pm, sans intermission. The best part is that you can enjoy dinner without having to order the early bird special, or have dinner in between and catch both performances!
In a touching homage to the late Jack McCray, Charleston’s ‘Jazz Angel,’ the program notes, typically written by McCray, were left blank. “Goodnight, Mr. Charleston,” was written simply at the bottom of the page. McCray’s signature hat rested on the podium throughout the performance, exactly where it should be. Special guest emcee Mark Quinn did a great job, especially given that there are BIG shoes to fill.
Symphonic Swing took classical selections and rearranged them for a fresh, funky, jazz explosion of well-known classical pieces like “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” arranged for the CJO by trumpeter & leader Charlton Singleton, and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 – Movement One,” arranged by alto sax player Jon Phillips. Everyone knew the tunes, but the fresh take brought them to life.
“Palladio,” a tune by Karl Jenkins, which you surely know from the ‘diamonds are forever’ commercials, was arranged by CJO alto sax player Robert Lewis, as well as “Les Toreadors” and “Habanera” from Carmen, both of which the crowd loved. Salsa rhythms seeped in, and people were dancing in the aisles. I kid you not, because I really wanted to be one of them.
As a child who grew up on classical ballet, NPR and annual performances by the North Carolina Symphony, this was one of the most enjoyable nights of classical music I’ve ever had.
Symphonic Swing was accessible to everyone in the audience. Surprising arrangements by the very musicians performing the songs on the Charleston Music Hall stage proved bandleader Singleton’s point: you DO know classical music, and it IS good, sometimes it just needs a more modern, jazzy spin.
Jack would have been proud.
words: Stacy Huggins