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Orchestral Music Review Print

Dianne Reeves, Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, Improvises on the Theme of Rain

June 7, 2003 - Cary, NC:

Free-flowing jazz from her own ensemble backed Dianne Reeves' opening number, "The Twelfth of Never," in which one first noted the applicable words, "You ask how much I need you, may I explain? ... as roses need rain !" The artist grasped the opportunity to improvise on the theme of rain throughout the evening.

Jazz is by definition a style of improvisation on musical instruments. Reeves took advantage of the style to improvise during the evening, not only with bebop/scat singing but also to belt out - stylishly - an instrumentally accompanied introduction for William Henry Curry, Music Director of the North Carolina Symphony's June 7 Summerfest "Celebration of Sarah Vaughan." She sang him onto the stage shortly after her first number, which began at 7:30 p.m. These concerts go on, rain or shine, but rain was the operative word on this Saturday evening in Cary's Regency Park Amphitheater.

From where I was privileged to sit, high on the hill under the canopy of Kay Struffolino's Cary area public relations booth*, Reeves appeared to be wearing a gorgeous floor length orangey coral gown beneath a sweeping white floor-length coat, creating a picture to behold! Undoubtedly, it was Sarah Vaughan style, in keeping with the program. A young person with whom I conferred prior to the concert informed me that the artist often shows up in risqué costuming, so leather-jacket influence was predicted. Wrong! The artist presented a gorgeous picture of high fashion design that magnetized the eye.

As given, the concert reflected spontaneous rainy-day programming. There was no printed program, by the way. The words kept repeating "Rainbow shining before my eyes" and the great sound system drowned out the pelting raindrops on the canopy under which I sat, right through to the last soulful "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!" Could that be the title?

The instruments played two revealing chords and I knew that "Skylark" - shades of WWII - was being introduced. "Can you tell me where my love has gone? Over the shadows and the [once again] rain ." (I am pretty sure this word was substituted, but it could have been imaginative programming.) So much for poetic improvisation and appropriate programming! It was delightful, and so very Sarah Vaughan, as was "Crazy as a gypsy serenading the moon!" "Skyyylaaark!" And it was over.

Speaking to the audience, the artist recalled that her uncle had given her records from the era of Jimi Hendricks and The Temptations, and among them were records of "the amazing Sarah Vaughan." They were her inspiration, and she began to illustrate Sarah Vaughan-style, a cappella except for some percussion backup. The words "Music we make with our lips when we kiss" were a riddle as I tried to figure out the title. Then I heard it intoned "The Lullaby of Birdland."

With her "deep purple" belt voice, Reeves implored the rain to go away, singing "Go away rain, go away rain..." as a jazz improv of timely proportions with large sound, meeting the moment. Alas, the gods she addressed by implication didn't hear her. While about 50 golf umbrellas still covered an estimated hundred people huddled together in the open space, I stayed through intermission and the first song thereafter, when Reeves returned with her own combo; two successive flashes of light, presumably lightning, to the left of the stage forced my departure, but I was able to enjoy the sound of the Sarah Vaughan tribute down the long, long trail to the parking lot, where I sat in the car and listened to the music from the loud speaker for a while, until the heavens opened and the rain drowned it out completely.

The orchestra members had already retreated to their vehicles at intermission. They had parked their bus and truck close behind the massive stage - it is poorly designed for protection against the weather, since the roof is so high. The rains poured in. Have North Carolina architects never seen the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade by the Charles River, in Boston, on television? It might give them an idea about wrap-around weather protection. The same design problem applies to height of the roof of the covered VIP seating area at the back of the grassy amphitheater. That section was sold out but by no means filled. Season ticket holders had heard the weather report: 100% chance of rain. If they had ever been there before, they knew there was no protection even if "the band played on." Looking back, this was a memorable experience - more of a happening than just a plain concert. The diehards who sat up close under their umbrellas will surely never forget it!

Incidentally, Rex Healthcare, the organization on emergency readiness duty at the NCS' outdoor events, assured me that wheelchairs are available on site, but it is a considerable distance from handicapped parking to the amphitheater.

*Struffolino, a former NCS staff member, was a driving force behind the creation of Summerfest as we know it.