Los Angeles, December 4, 2005

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA
Sunday, December 4, 2005
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS

“John Williams: My Fair Lady”

Concert Review by Hector J. Guzman

If there’s something that can be described as cool it really must be jazz. Drummer Steve Houghton, who recently recorded John Williams’ charts for big band and quintet (initially recorded by Shelly Manne in 1965), sought Williams to conduct Houghton’s quintet accompanied by jazz ensamble o­n the charts Williams created in 1964 for Shelly Mann’s recording of the music from Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway hit My Fair Lady, as Williams’ explained in his introduction to the piece.

The opening segment of the program, featuring the Steve Houghton Quintet, opened with Lanny Morgan’s “Friends Again” and John Williams’ arrangement of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay”. Cool guy Brian Stokes Mitchell joined in with two Cole Porter selections, “Love For Sale” and “It’s All Right With Me”. Great voice. The last two selections were performed by the magnificent jazz vocalist Diane Reeves “How High the Moon” and in keeping with the holiday spirit she closed with the classic “Let It Snow” by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.

A jazz orchestra joined the Steve Houghton Quintet together with John Williams. As a note of curiosity, in the orchestra, tuba player James Self, a celebrity of the John Williams/Steven Spielberg community, is the man who performed the mothership’s dialog in the 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
It was refreshing to hear the classic songs from My Fair Lady this way, although sometimes the arrangement made the melodies somewhat unrecognizable, but they did “blow the roof off Frank Gehry’s hall” like Williams said they would. Brian Stokes Mitchell performed the part of Professor Higgins and Diane Reeves was Eliza. My main complaint about this version of My Fair Lady is that, although the o­nly songs that were performed with vocals were those that o­nly Prof. Higgins and Eliza sing, we didn’t get o­ne of the best songs from the show: “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”, and even if Higgins did not sing “On The Street Where You Live”, it would have made a nice addition as it’s o­ne of the most beautiful tunes from Broadway. Williams, as this was not a concert with a symphony orchestra, did not conduct with a baton, instead he just would conduct parts where the ensamble entered and stay out of the spotlight when the quintet played solo.
The recording of this hard to find since it’s out of print, but according to Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe, the original album ends in a quiet note but for live performance Williams created a lively version of “I’m Getting Married In the Morning”, which was repeated as an encore. Unfortunately, as in the Washington concert, people seemed to be in a hurry after the last piece so we didn’t get an additional encore, perhaps another Christmas classic, which I was expecting.
Despite my minimum complaints, having Williams doing jazz was a great experience and something different from the usual film music concerts.
Notes from the Program

‘My Fair Lady Gets Jazzed’

From the earliest days of jazz, “standards” have been fair game for the jazz player who would display his interpretive and improvisational skills. With a tune that the listener knew already, the performer could embellish and investigate the material without the need to compose something fresh number after number. With classic ’20s tunes like “The Sheik of Araby” or “Tea for Two” and, later, “Body and Soul” or “I Got Rhythm” (both from 1930), jazz musicians created swinging versions of songs their audiences could dance to.

Duke Ellington and Count Basie mixed up their set lists with cover version of standards along with their own creations. Art Tatum was famous for his solo piano excursions, most of which were reworkings of so-called standards.

In the 1950, Broadway shows were recreated in jazz by many of the most respected artists (Oscar Peterson, André Previn, Miles Davis, and many others). Drummer Shelly Manne was involved in two celebrated versions of My Fair Lady, the Lerner and Loewe hit from 1956. The first was with Previn at the piano and Leroy Vinnegar o­n bass, for Contemporary Records. In 1964, with Manne as the leader, another jazz version of My Fair Lady (with the “un-original cast” as the cover declared) was released o­n Capitol Records. Vocalists Irene Kral and Jack Sheldon were featured, but the guiding force was arranger and pianist Johnny Williams, who was credited as musical director.

This legendary recording was recreated at the Tanglewood Festival in 2004, with vocalists Dianne Reeves and Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Williams conducting his original charts. Tonight, it comes alive all over again in Walt Disney Concert Hall.