The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Big Band Salute,” conducted by Matt Catingub, left us with at least one magical memory.
That happened when Catingub played “Moonglow,” a standard immortalized by Artie Shaw, and invited the packed house to dance. And some people did.
A cheer went up as a few couples ventured into the space in front of the stage. Then, after a few bars, other people got brave. A graceful silver-haired couple began dancing in the balcony. And further back, dozens of teenagers began rising to their feet. The teens were dressed to the nines. They had put on the ritz to perform in the Mary Seaton Room beforehand. Gallantly, the guys escorted the girls into the aisles, and they, too, danced to Artie Shaw’s “Moonglow.”
How sweet was that? Catingub had bridged the generations.
Catingub, who is of Polynesian descent, is the son of Samoan-born Capitol Records singer Mavis Rivers. He is the director of the Hawaii Pops, and he is one of the artists said to be in the running for the post of BPO principal pops conductor. This concert, his first appearance in Buffalo, set the bar pretty high.
The stage of Kleinhans Music Hall looked different from the way it usually looks. The brass were to the right. In the back were the horns, with principal Jacek Muzyk far right by the door, and in front were the prime big band players, including BPO saxophonist and clarinetist Sal Andolina, God’s gift to jazz-minded guest conductors. Meanwhile, the strings were all on the left side of the stage.
It must have been an interesting change of pace for the musicians, and they seemed to enjoy it. The atmosphere was alert and alive.
The night began with a zesty take on the Glenn Miller classic “In the Mood,” with a nice solo by Andolina, and then Catingub sat at the piano and crooned “It Had to be You.” “Did anyone dance?” he asked when he was through. He sighed, seeing the answer was no. “I’ll get you. I’ll get you,” he promised, and of course, he did.
For the next number, “I Love Paris,” he introduced singer Anita Hall. In a beautiful sea-green gown with a flower in her hair, she looked the part of the “girl singer” (to use a term beloved by Catingub’s late colleague Rosemary Clooney). Jazz might not be her first language but she sang very well, with a smooth delivery and upbeat personality. The act is polished. In “I Love Paris,” it was cute how Catingub played a robust solo and then tossed the song back to her, like a football. She caught it nicely.
“Stella By Starlight” came next, and then “All Of Me,” with a smoking solo by tenor saxophonist Andy Weinzler, a name known from local venues including The Buffalo News’ Jazz at the Albright-Knox festival.
A medley that paid homage to Clooney was a winner. Catingub used to travel with her, near the end of her life. The songs ranged from “Tenderly” to “White Christmas.” Catingub sang “Come On-A My House,” with gusto, and then yielded the stage to a splashy drum solo by drummer Steve Moretti. When the orchestra kicked in again, the musicians got in on the act, yelling lyrics on cue.
Catingub made good use of the orchestra. The arrangements were excellent. “Moonglow” was a stunner, with the strings sighing and smooth, seamless brass. Hall, re-emerging in a long dark gown, sang a “Blue Skies” that shone with honking horns and artful touches from Mike Moser on guitar. Even “Mack the Knife,” dull in the wrong hands, was sharp and shiny with deep, growling trombones. The night ended with a sultry “Take the ‘A’ Train,” which Catingub and Hall sang as a witty duet.
Catingub will be back in November for a Gershwin show with pianist Kevin Cole.
Is it too early to start looking forward to it?