For the second consecutive Friday in October, there has been an opportunity for enhanced entertainment in Port of Spain that features a mingling and interface of jazz performance and western classical music personnel. The Classical Music Development Foundation’s production, “On a Lighter Note” at the Little Carib Theatre showcased light classical songs and jazz vocal favourites by coloratura soprano Natalia Dopwell accompanied by the Dominant Seventh Calypso Jazz Band led by trumpeter Rellon Brown. Unfortunately, this three night event was avoided by a wider audience on the gala première night therefore denying the performers a critical ovation and measure of what works and what does not.
The ninety minute show was a celebration of the film and musical theatre songs of the Gershwins (Embraceable You, Summertime, I’ve Got Rhythm), Cole Porter (Begin the Beguine, I’ve Got You Under My Skin), Andrew Lloyd-Webber (Half a Moment), as were Natalia’s takes of the show tunes from The Scarlet Pimpernel (Only Love) and Jeeves (Half a Moment) that allowed her to relax into a milieu that defined excellence. The show was also a nod to the style of “crossover classical” made popular by another diva, Sarah Brightman. The opening song, “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” was dedicated to activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh; maybe a subtle jab at his solitary determination and idealism against all odds, but an apt song choice with a message that was not missed by the small audience.
West End and Broadway musical theatre songs, and tunes from movie musicals were fodder for jazz singers in the past. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat ‘King’ Cole set templates for the re-interpretation of the theatre song to jazz standard. Dopwell was up for the challenge of phrasing the songs in a jazz context, infusing her personality into these songs. “Stormy Weather,” featured in the later film of the same name, was a standout that night.
Natalia Dopwell sings pleasantly, however her connection with Dominant Seventh Calypso Jazz Band was almost non-existent, seemingly unfamiliar like two newly met co-workers. The juxtaposition of classical training and jazz technique and performance revealed the fissure between the interpretive styles of the two genres. Jazz is interaction. It’s a conversation. It felt like two concerts, which from all appearances, it may have been. Dopwell left the stage for the band to perform, and only on a couple songs were extended improvised solos performed.
Dominant Seventh, a septet featuring a young horn section of Brown, Jeremy Chatoor on sax and flute and Joshua Pasqual on trombone opened the concert with the standard “Green Dolphin Street” and interspersed the show with three other instrumental pieces including a new take on the 1991 Melanie Hudson song , “I Will Always Be There For You.” Pianist Adan Hagley arranged, “Summertime” as a light bossa nova, and together with drummer Rennie Placide’s arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” similarly, one got the impression that this band was searching for a tropical context of these show tunes. It worked well.
Opening night premières can be un-nerving, even for a gifted professional like Dopwell, and the band, while mildly undermined by poor sound reinforcement, made a determined start to a weekend of quality entertainment that the Classical Music Development Foundation is known for. The paucity of audiences to acknowledge this performance and others like this such as the debut of The Keate Street Jazz Octet the week before is a signal that either marketing efforts are falling on deaf ears or the road to travel for the professional performer is long and lonely. On a lighter note, on a different stage, this should be a hit.
- An edited version of this review appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “Good show, pity about the audience.”
© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.