Doc Severinsen blows out auditorium

Civic Music debuts new season with no holds barred.
Concert Review, September 22, 2013 By Bob Saar for The Hawk Eye

Burlington Civic Music kicked off its new season Sunday afternoon at Memorial Auditorium with a bang that compelled the huge audience to whimper.

The Doc Severinsen Big Band gave the old building new life, as though it had been waiting 80 years for them to show up.

Severinsen, renowned high-note trumpeter, sideman to Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, was Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” band director for 30 years.

An elegant intro by Civic Music president Barbara McRoberts, and pow! – Severinsen and his band bopped a piece of the “Tonight Show” theme before leaping into “We’re in the Money.”

What a band. What a band!

“How’re you feeling, folks?” Doc asked the crowd, and they cheered like prison inmates for Miley Cyrus. “Sounds like a riot’s about to break out,” he yelped.

Severinsen introduced the second number as “my impression of an older man tap-dancing his way into eternity,” then drifted sideways into a monologue about aging.

“I am not going quietly into the night,” he said, and the crowd bellowed their approval.

Quite simply, this band is the best musical crew to hit a Burlington stage in decades. We’ve seen great shows at Steamboat Days, The Washington, the auditorium, the Blue Shop, but none have reached the soaring heights of Doc Severinsen and his band.

That’s right, no one. There’s isn’t a touring country or rock act that can generate the raw music power of Severinsen’s group. They were super-tight, super-hip and super grooved. They were pumped, bad and loud, the way big band jazz should be. Plenty of bass. All brass; no wimpy strings in Doc’s band.

They played brawny, fat, in-your-face arrangements and they were tight, very tight.

And Doc Severinsen can play. His face got all red and spotty on his solos, but an 86-year-old man can be excused- he squealed the high notes like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert.

OK, enough of that. They looked good, too.

From the ground up, Severinsen sported black patent leather loafers, lime green slacks, a hunter-safety-orange shirt and a jacket that made one imagine a Mexican peacock caught in a child’s rhinestone dream.

A chile pepper-red scarf poked out of his left pocket like an imp.

The band wore dark suits with matching ties: yellow for the trumpets, orange for the ‘bones, blue for the saxes and pink for the bassist and drummer.

Severinsen started up the Basie bash, “Jumping at the Woodside” with a warning: “All I can tell you, kids, is jump back-you could get burned.”

The band – four trumpets, three trombones, five saxes, piano, bass and drums- made it all look easy. Horn solos were high up in the realm of Doc’s forays, and Mary Louise Knutson’s keyboard work
was superb.

Ernie Watts’ solo: Yow! Wow! Holy cow! Triplet city! Hot note stampede! What a saxman. What a saxman!

Then they brought out Vanessa Thomas for a few numbers.

She owned the room from the start of “Singing in the Rain.”

Thomas has a rich voice, able to dig deep into the darkest corners of heartbreak and high into the hidden comers of the soul, always floating on a perfect vibrato with enough power to make the horns
work just a little harder to keep up with her.

What a voice. What a voice!

She treated the crowd to the Charlie Chaplin chestnut, “Smile,” while the band cradled her easy, mellow ballad. Then Severinsen shouted, “All right, girl, heat it up now!” and they segued into a hot
jump version of “When You’re Smiling.”

Severinsen’s blues solo on “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” mesmerized the audience.

It went on like that until the very end. A snaky “Caravan,” the aching lament of “Georgia,” a drum solo on “Sing Sing Sing” that electrocuted the room.

A medley closed it off: “One O’clock Jump,” “Two O’clock Jump,” and the Tonight Show break, “Twelve O’clock Jump.”

“When you went out to the refrigerator on commercials, that’s what we were doing- we were swinging,” Severinsen said.

This was Severinsen’s third appearance at Memorial Auditorium. He played here in 1965 and ’67 with the Burlington High School Stage Band, led by Maurice White.

“Instead of raising money to take a trip to Disneyland, we raised money to bring a celebrity to play a concert with us,” BHS vibes man Mort Gaines recalled.

Severinsen said he remembers White well.

“I’m still friends with his two boys,” he said.

Craig Smith of Burlington brought his family to the auditorium to experience a legend.

“This was a great opportunity to expose youth to music,” he said. His son, Joshua, is just beginning band in fifth grade and wants to play trumpet; daughter Samantha, in her senior year, is an accomplished trumpet player.

“She was in tears,” Smith said. Everyone who saw the Doc Severinsen Big Band can relate to that, Samantha.

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