The title selected for the concert was "All That Jazz." And while it wasn't really that, either in the sense of all being jazz or of embracing all jazz, it did include some honest-to-goodness Dixieland and ended by achieving some demonstrable fusion.
The occasion was the Utah Symphony's final Merrill Lynch Entertainment Series concert of the season Saturday at Symphony Hall. And there, by way of an enjoyable mix of Gershwin, Ellington and a pair of local composers, conductor Christopher Wilkins at least gave his listeners a taste of the idiom, even if most of it was what is sometimes called "symphonic jazz."Even that can cut a pretty wide swath, incorporating everything from Darius Milhaud to Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and John Lewis. Instead the evening began with something called "Early American Quadrille," recalling the era of the two-step and cakewalk, before moving to ragtime, via Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," and from there to the Dixieland set.
Performance-wise the Joplin, with its catch-as-catch-can trumpet solo, seemed a bit tentative. Most everything else was served up with spirit and polish, however, and in the case of the Dixieland ensemble (drawn from the orchestra itself) a fair approximation of the style.
Thus, although he is no Bix Beiderbecke, trumpeter Edmund Cord brought strength to the former's "Jazz Me Blues." And his section partner Nick Norton came even closer in the Satchmo-style wailings of the King Oliver Band, abetted by the hot clarinet licks of Russell Harlow.
After that came "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" from Rodgers and Hart's "On Your Toes," more a ballet musical than a jazz excursion, in a performance that despite the loping rhythms and occasionally jazzy accents was likewise a lot more big-orchestra than big-band.
At which point the latter might have been appropriately represented by, say, Benny Goodman. What we got instead was two Glenn Miller standards, Joe Garland's "In the Mood" (which in fact made the rounds of at least three other orchestras before it got to Miller) and Miller's own "Moonlight Serenade." Wilkins' introductory comments on the immediately recognizable Miller sound notwithstanding, only the second sported the familiar swaying reeds and laid-back brass. Just the same, the audience response was such that one suspects the presence of the Miller name alone on the program accounted for as many ticket sales as anything else.
On the other hand Duke Ellington's can't have hurt, even if he was present via one of his symphonic works, the "Martin Luther King" segment of his ballet (there's that word again) "Les Trois Rois Noirs" - "The Three Black Kings" - appealing music, even if its typically sophisticated blend of gospel idioms and open-air nostalgia sounds almost like "Roots: The Third Generation."
Better that than contemporary composer John Harbison's "Remembering Gatsby," a pretentiously modern evocation of the Jazz Age. Gatsby himself would probably have preferred Gershwin's Variations on "I Got Rhythm," here projected with spark and vitality, pianist Ricklen Nobis emphasizing much of the music's stridency and daring.
A tough act to follow, but Utahns Henry Wolking and Tully Cathey did just that, the first in the Brazilian-tinged cross-currents of his "Methenyology," an immensely likable work, and the second in his haunting, and similarly Brazilian, arrangement of Sting's "Fragile" (with Cathey himself on the guitar). And although Wolking's "Goblin Valley" sounds to be just over the hill from his "Black Dragon Canyon," its energetic rhythms and semi-lush sonority are likely to ensure as many performances, a notion supported by the size of the ovation.