Monday, July 08, 2002

Severinsen still swings at 75

By Nicole Hamilton,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Doc Severinsen is perhaps best known as the flamboyant music director of the Tonight Show, who spent years as Johnny Carson's sideman. But with the Cincinnati Pops at Riverbend Saturday, he proved well-suited (and colorfully suited) to be front and center.

        Waltzing onto the stage wearing hot pink pants and a turquoise embroidered jacket, Mr. Severinsen launched into music by Rossini, rolling his hips like a rock star. At the end of the piece, he told the orchestra he'd play the ending one more time.

        Billed “Swingin' at 75,” Mr. Severinsen moved from classical works arranged for trumpet to big band and jazz with finesse and skill.

        The concert opened with a sharp, clean brass section solo in Franz Von Suppe's “Light Calvary Overture” before Mr. Severinsen joined the orchestra.

        Trumpet solos in Gioacchino Rossini's Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville were uniquely phrased, , but like any good jazz musician, his sense of timing was razor sharp. More passive was Giacomo Puccini's Nessun dorma! from Turandot which Mr. Severinsen played with lush, expansive phrases, magnified by his vibrato.

        The Pops were joined by swing dancers Steven Bailey and Nathalie Gomes, for “Get Happy” and by the May Festival Youth Chorus (James Bagwell and Marylin Libbin, directors), for “Satchmo: A Salute to Louis Armstrong.”

        The tribute featured Mr. Severinsen playing parts of favorites like “Mack The Knife” and “Hello, Dolly.” “What a Wonderful World” ended with Mr. Severinsen singing the refrain, sounding just like Satchmo himself.

        Having changed into a red, white, and blue sequined number, Mr. Severinsen returned after intermission to deliver his strongest performances. He played tenderly in “Wind Beneath My Wings,”dedicating it to his wife Emily — an Ohio native, who he called his “little buckeye.”

        He blazed through the concert finale, Louis Prima's “Sing, Sing, Sing.” When he traded solos with drummer Marc Wolfley, Riverbend became a jazz club as his scorching improvisation was clearly the highest point of the evening.

        Mr. Severinsen played “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” for an encore, after which the crowd rose to its feet for about the fifth time.

        Mr. Severinsen told the audience Cincinnati was one of his favorite places to play. From the looks on the faces in the crowd, the admiration is mutual.


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