At Christ Church on Quaker Hill in Pawling, jazz floated through the blue portals of Norman Vincent Peale’s summer church. (He is buried under a large rock just outside the church.) The Sherman Ensemble performed its annual “jazzing Up The Classics” program. They began with Claude Bolling’s “Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio,” performing the first movement in which Eliot Bailen on piano and Ted Rosenthal on piano alternated lead while Thomson Kneeland set the pace on acoustic bass.
For Paquito D’Rivera’s lively “Wapango,” they were joined by Susan Rotholz on flute and Chris Parker on drums. Parker then led on drums throughout his own composition, “Tough Land.” Ted Rosenthal, the featured maestro of the concert, then played his composition “Always Believe” where he tinkled the ivories with enthusiastic upbeat notes running toward the higher register. “You Make Me Laugh” was another Rosenthal original.
Kneeland arranged Pedro Laurenz’s “Milonga de mis amores” where the whole ensemble achieved tight unity. This was followed by a cabaret style performance of George Gershwin’s 1937 “They All Laughed” from the film Shall We Dance with Susan Rotholtz singing the Ginger Rogers tune. She has a lovely sweet voice, yet she might have projected her voice more forcefully. This was followed by “Old Devil Moon” from the 1947 film Finian’s Rainbow. This tune has become a notable jazz standard performed by countless peer musicians. Susan added a more intimate quality to the tune.
Rosenthal has played with Wynton Marsalis and the Vanguard Orchestra and he has appeared on Marian McPartland’s NPR’s Piano Jazz broadcast. Within his formidable discography, my favorite remains Impromptu, an album that offers jazz arrangements and piano performance of notable classics. From that album, Rosenthal plucked “June” based upon Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons sequence, inspired by Fanny Mendelsohn’s Das Jahr ("The Year") which offered a musical depiction of each month. Rosenthal’s jazzing up of Tchaikovsky transforms a Romantic landscape into a vibrant cityscape with humor and wit. This was a rollicking number followed by a Chopin “Waltz in C# minor” that took the romance out of waltz and turned the waltz into a hot dance number circa 1950s.
With cello and flute playing more demanding roles, the ensemble seamlessly flowed in the pleasantly meandering “Libertango” by Astor Piazzola. Here each instrument took solo turns, yet the flute was most impressive in this number. They closed with Rosenthal’s cheerful version of “Sunny Side Up.” This was a festive ensemble playing in the shadow of a holiday weekend where gastric burdens tended to immobilize dancing feet, despite the warmth of temperature reprieve. A video of Ted Rosenthal performing appears below.