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No one in Meymandi Concert Hall's sold-out house left disappointed after Johnny Mathis and the North Carolina Symphony closed their Friday evening performance. After NCS showcased a "greatest hits" of sorts from George Gershwin, at 80 years old, Mathis led the crowd down memory lane with flawless renditions of his variety of classics. It was very appropriate that the NC Symphony would introduce Johnny Mathis with a compilation of Gershwin's greatest hits, as legendary vocalist Mathis indeed introduced the concept of a greatest hits album with his very own in 1958 album, "Johnny's Greatest Hits." The program noted the album spent almost ten years on the Billboard Top Albums Chart and is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for the accomplishment.
In the first half of the program, Maestro William Henry Curry led the impressive NCS through the swinging jazz melodies of Gershwin. The set began with the title number from Strike up the Band and featured several later tunes from Girl Crazy, including the Hershy Kay arrangement of "I Got Rhythm" from the ballet Who Cares. The closing number before intermission showcased the various orchestral voices, with a particularly active percussion section, in a Robert Russell Bennett medley, Gershwin in Hollywood. From the jazzy rhythm of "Nice Work if You Can Get it" to the swelling melody of "Love Walked In" to "They Can't take that Away From Me" falling somewhere in between, Bennett ran the Gershwin gamut. Between Curry and NCS, the medley was in the very best of hands.
Mathis introduced his set under the baton of his talented keyboardist, pianist, and conductor, Scott Lavender. He led the set early with his three hall of fame record inductions "Chances Are," "It's Not for Me to Say," and "Misty" to the increasingly enthusiastic audience. The full-to-capacity audience needed only a few lyrics or even opening notes from the orchestra or Mathis' accompanying quartet of bass, guitar, drums, and keys to recognize their favorite standards, which they applauded and sometimes stood for with appreciation throughout the evening.
With the support of the ever-versatile North Carolina Symphony, the program flowed seamlessly between jazz, Spanish, and romantic influences as Mathis' voice rang with clarity and strength – a testament to his continued talent. As the show concluded with his high-powered "Brazil," Mathis barely left the stage before the audience rose to their feet demanding an encore. As an adoring fan delivered roses to the stage, Mathis seemed to reciprocate the gratitude with his final number, "You'll Never Know." In 2016, as he celebrates his 60th anniversary as a recording artist with the grace and humility of someone much less renowned, Johnny Mathis has stood, and seems to defy, the test of time.
Mr. Mathis performs once more with the North Carolina Symphony on Saturday, February 20, at 8:00 pm. See our sidebar for details.