Animated Singleton leads spirited Charleston Jazz Orchestra performance
BY DEVIN GRANT
Special to The Post and Courier
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Show me someone who says that there isn't any good live music in Charleston, and I will show you someone who just isn't looking hard enough.
Last weekend, the music options were wide open. One could have taken in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra at Memminger Auditorium on Friday night, enjoyed the teeth-rattling sounds of local rockers Leslie at the Music Farm on Saturday, or headed up to Awendaw Green for an early evening show from Americana artist Bonnie Bishop on Sunday.
No matter what your musical palate might be, there's something out there for you at one point of another.
Last Saturday night, the Charleston Music Hall was ground zero for local jazz fans as Charlton Singleton conducted the Charleston Jazz Orchestra through a spectacular evening dedicated to the music of Count Basie.
I first experienced the orchestra in March 2008 at the same venue. At that time, the group spotlighted the many South Carolina artists who contributed to popular jazz music.
It was, and still is, one of the best live shows I have ever seen. I unfortunately had to miss the second performance by the Charleston Jazz Orchestra last fall, but there was no way I was going to skip this third opportunity.
I was a bit worried that after the musical high left by the previous performance, it might be hard for Singleton to maintain such a level of quality. I needn't have worried, though.
Singleton lives for music, and he's as much of a perfectionist as one can be with a musical style as constantly evolving as jazz.
Saturday night's lineup was slightly different from the debut in March 2008. Tommy Gill was playing piano and David Patterson was playing drums in place of Quentin Baxter.
There were a few other new faces in the orchestra, but none of the personnel changes seemed to affect the quality of the performance. As a matter of fact, Patterson quickly had jaws hitting the floor with his amazing drum solo during the opening number, "Whirly Bird."
Prior to the show, local jazz enthusiast and columnist Jack McCray sat down with Singleton to talk briefly about Basie's influence on jazz, and why Singleton had selected that artist as the evening's subject.
Singleton revealed that Basie was his favorite artist, and the show's program called attention to several noted South Carolina artists who had played in Basie's orchestra. After the short interview, Singleton stepped up to the podium and went to work.
I actually shouldn't really call what Singleton does work, because while it undoubtedly took hours of practice and preparation to put together Saturday's show, Singleton made it all look fun.
He doesn't simply stand and conduct. He hops, jumps, crouches and slides, using more body English than a professional charades player to conduct the musicians.
It's a joy to watch, and Singleton's enthusiasm is contagious. After "Whirly Bird" the band ran through Basie selections such as "The Kid From Redbank" (featuring great piano playing by Gill), "Lil' Darlin' " and "Jumpin' at the Woodside."
One selection from the first set, "Cute," was cited by Singleton as being the go-to tune for tap dancers, and since there were no dancers to be found, Patterson filled in on his drum kit, tapping and sliding convincingly so that if you closed your eyes, you could almost picture the late Gregory Hines on stage.
After a short intermission, the orchestra returned and Singleton played trumpet in addition to continuing to conduct. Selections for the second set included "Corner Pocket," "Shiny Stockings" and "April in Paris," before concluding with "One O'Clock Jump."
The musicians received a standing ovation. The crowd was not content to let the show end there, so Singleton ran the band through one last piece with a South American flavor.
Once again, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra outdid itself, and once again I was proud to be in a crowd of people who had come to see and hear the performance, not be seen while jabbering away while the music was playing.
An audience that actually turns off cell phones and keeps quiet during a performance is a rarity here, and I commend Saturday night's attendees for bucking the trend.
Jazz Artists of Charleston plan upcoming performances during Piccolo Spoleto, as well as another Charleston Music Hall performance by the orchestra June 4.
Do whatever you need to do to see those performances. I simply cannot say enough good things about what the folks behind this organization are trying to accomplish.
Contact Devin Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.