December 28, 2011

USA: Woody Allen's jazz band warmly received at Boxing Day Concert

SEATTLE, Washington / The Seattle Times / Music & Nightlife / December 27, 2011

Concert review
By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times

In this review of a Monday, Dec. 26, performance at Seattle's Paramount Theatre by filmmaker and clarinetist Woody Allen, here with his New Orleans Jazz Band, freelancer Tom Keogh reports that while Allen was the weakest link in his own band, his clarinet playing picked up strength as the two-hour show progressed. The rest of the band, led by banjo man Eddy Davis, was excellent.

Woody Allen, clarinetist in banjoist Eddy Davis' band.
Joel Ryan / AP
On the heels of critical and box-office success with his feature comedy "Midnight In Paris," and a recent, well-received "American Masters" documentary, 76-year-old Woody Allen — appearing in Seattle with his New Orleans Jazz Band — was greeted with great affection at the Paramount Monday.

Never mind that Allen was the weakest link in the seven-man ensemble, which (as he acknowledged during the show) is really led by banjoist and musical director Eddy Davis.

Allen, the legendary comic and filmmaker, has been an enthusiastic if modestly skilled clarinetist with Davis' group for many years.

Surrounded by excellent musicians, Allen fills his role with laid-back humility onstage, occasionally rising to momentary bursts of inspiration.

During his Boxing Day concert, he began by playing haltingly and with a few screeches, but soon picked up strength and fluidity. The audience, initially subdued (as if by a Christmas hangover) and comprised of overlapping fans of jazz and Allen, roared to life when the star announced he was "astonished and thrilled" that a near-capacity crowd had turned out.

But appreciation was also given other players for their frequent solos (drummer John Gill somehow didn't get one), as well as sojourns by brass or rhythm sections. Pianist Conal Fowkes was a favorite, adding ragtime, blues, gospel and saloon colors to the band's sound, which ranged from whispered restraint to ecstatic chaos.

The group hit its stride early with the 1911 charmer "Oh, You Beautiful Doll." Allen stepped up his game soon after, adding to the hectic joy of "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream" with impressive wailing on his instrument.

Trombonist Jerry Zigmont gave a nice, growling vocal to "Girl of My Dreams" and joined in jaunty collaborations with expressive trumpeter Simon Wettenhall. Davis' warm, sweet voice was a highlight on "I Shall Not Be Moved." He was joined by the audience, which also sang along to a playful rendition of the 1907 Mills-Chattaway hit "Red Wing."

Two generous encores brought the show to the two-hour mark, prompting Allen to say good-night in his trademark, stammering delivery: "If I don't get eight hours of sleep, I look my age."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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