A Spring Miracle

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sun, 2016-09-04 04:42

"Swing into Spring" we were enjoined last night by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, teamed up with the Rodger Fox Big Band at the Michael Fowler Centre. It had been a sparkling Spring day and this mesmerising "combo," to use a swingy expression, brought it to a suitably lustrous close.

Full disclosure—"swing" for me, as an unreconstructed dinosaur, is Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the like. It's not particularly my thing, but I do adore Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Chattanooga Choo Choo and others from the Glenn Miller playlist—tuneful, playful and with irresistible rhythms. Not having given the matter much thought, though, I realised I'd be hard-pressed to define what exactly swing was if push came to syncopated shove, so I looked it up ... and was convulsed to find the following answer by Satchmo to that very question: "Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation—then they called it ragtime, then blues—then jazz. Now, it's swing. Ha! Ha! White folks, yo'all sho is a mess."

However it is defined, I'd love to have heard, last night, more of Louis' kind of swing than some of the less famous material written by the performing musicians for the performing musicians. On first hearing at least this seemed tuneless and aimless in a contemporary kind of way; it was a relief when the players moved to the more familiar territory of Leonard Bernstein's classic West Side Story.

These, however, are the carpings of the aforementioned fossil reptile. Qua spectacle, the two big bands together were electrifying, Rodger Fox in particular performing with the same passion and precision that have become his trademark since forming his group over forty years ago. But not even his brilliance could have prepared us for the astounding guest soloist, trumpeter Allen Vizzutti. The way this man made his instrument talk and sing, the depths and heights he could take it to, the yodelling effect he could get with his octave-leap double-tonguing, the colour and beauty of his tone, the high notes that could bring down low-flying aircraft—all showcased dazzlingly in his own Fire Dance—were nothing short of miraculous. He was equally virtuosic on the trumpet's little-outed sibling, the flugelhorn—a particular delight for me as someone who once played that instrument in the Feilding Municipal Band! (Flugel combines the brightness of the cornet with the warmth of the tenor horn. It needs to get out more.)

NZSO conductor Hamish McKeich, who might have been in danger of being superfluous to requirements, performed his anchoring duties with aplomb.

This programme is yet to be aired in Napier, Rotorua, Hamilton, Auckland, Kerikeri, Blenheim, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. If you're in or near one of those places, don't miss it. You'll come away believing in miracles.