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Doc Severinsen and San Miguel 5 mark highpoint so far for Artown 2011

By Mimi Beck Knudsen, Reno Gazette-Journal

Allow me to don my Carnac the Magnificent turban and give my answer first: Wow! The question? Well, there are several. Whatever happened to Johnny Carson’s bandleader, Doc Severinsen, since the legendary late-night show “retired” in 1992? Does an 84-year-old Severinsen still have the lips and lungs to let loose on the trumpet? In its 16th season, does Artown still have the ability to bring in acts that surprise and delight audiences?



Doc Severinsen and the San Miguel Five played the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater in Bartley Ranch Regional Park on Sunday night.



Doc Severinsen and the four other members of the San Miguel Five played the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater in Bartley Ranch Regional Park on Sunday night, punctuating the mid-point of the month- long Artown festival with a giant exclamation point. Looking tan, fit and colorful in bright green leather pants, a neon pink shirt and sparkly white jacket trimmed in gold, the only thing hotter than Severinsen’s ensemble on his back was the ensemble on the stage, the amazing musicians who comprise the San Miguel Five. Guitarist Gil Gutiérrez is founder and musical director of the group. In 2006 Severinsen happened upon Gutiérrez, who was performing in a San Miguel, Mexico, restaurant. They soon forged a friendship and musical partnership that has taken the group to venues from Mexico City to Carnegie Hall. Along with Gutiérrez and Severinsen, the San Miguel Five includes violinist Charlie Bisharat, percussionist Jimmy Branly and Kevin Thomas on bass. While Thomas and Branly provide the heartbeat, Bisharat, Gutiérrez and Severinsen get most of the show-stopping glory, although Branly’s solos, including hand-drumming on Gutiérrez’s guitar, provided some of the evening’s most memorable moments. For two hours, the audience got to savor the band’s delicious fusion of tango, f lamenco, classical, swing and Gypsy jazz, Advertisement ala the great Django Reinhardt. Mild, clear weather, a nearly full, cream- colored moon and a chorus of crickets were the perfect accoutrements for the very enthusiastic — and quite lucky — Bartley Ranch audience. On a personal note, seeing Severinsen allowed me to complete the quadfecta of live trumpet performances. Along with Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione and Herb Alpert, Severinsen certainly is seated first chair among the greatest trumpet

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‘Tonight Show’ band leader re-invented himself

By Jim Beal Jr.
San Antonio Express-News

For a quarter of a century, Doc Severinsen was likely the highest-profile trumpet player and band leader on the planet.

From his spot on the “Tonight Show” stage, the sartorially out-there Severinsen kibitzed with storied host Johnny Carson and sidekick Ed McMahon while leading the Tonight Show Orchestra through hot and cool paces.

When Carson retired in ’92, changes to the late-night show did not include Severinsen and his crew.

“I decided to retire and move to Mexico,” said Severinsen. “I knew I wanted to keep playing trumpet because that’s what I do. I went out to dinner in San Miguel and heard these guys playing. They are world class.

“I introduced myself. They didn’t know me from Adam, but they invited me to play. I figure you always need to be ready to make a change. Change is good. Take advantage of what’s presented to you. With this group, there was no doubt. The minute I heard them I wanted to play with them.”

Severinsen will lead the San Miguel 5 into Boerne on Sunday and Monday. The band, Severinsen, Gil Gutierrez (guitar), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jimmy Branly (percussion) and Kevin Thomas (bass), has range to go with chops.

“It’s very basic, very organic music,” Severinsen said. “Somebody said it could be considered world music. I said fine, I’ll go along with that. It’s a Latin-based group, but we play the blues, we play some Astor Piazzolla, we play some things styled after Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.”

Severinsen, 83, moves around.

“Right now I’m in Knoxville. I live part time in Mexico. I’m always a step ahead of the sheriff,” he said.

The trumpet player has kept moving since he grew up in Oregon. The son of a dentist, Severinsen started playing at a young age and never stopped, though he considered alternative careers.

“I decided what I wanted to be was a jockey,” he said. “When I started playing music, my father decided I’d better get some lessons. Later on, when I was playing with the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra on a TV show in New York, I could see the music business could be kinda iffy. So I thought I’d go up to a university and take an aptitude test.

“The violinist, Sal Spinelli, said, ‘You’re crazy. I’d like to have 10 percent of what you’re gonna make.’ I did a self-analysis and decided I was a structured schizophrenic. When I was with Tommy Dorsey, (trumpet player/bandleader/composer) Ziggy Elman gave me some great advice. He said to learn to be as versatile as possible and you can make a good living playing music.”

Severinsen played trumpet because that was the only instrument available in the town in which he was raised.

“I came to love it,” he said. “It’s loud. When you’re a little guy raised in a town surrounded by cowboys and football players, you’d better be able to make a statement.”

The trademark Doc Severinsen wardrobe came from the same statement-making place.

“The cowboys have a pretty independent attitude. I grew up with that,” he said. “It manifested itself in the wardrobe.” So has the Doc made concessions to aging?

“Nope,” he said, quickly. “A psychiatrist was trying to talk me into joining a group of older guys in Hollywood who were having trouble with aging. I said, ‘Nope.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to go quietly, are you?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ I don’t ever turn off what I am. I’m not sure what that is, but I just go and be myself.”

Severinsen also was quick to offer advice to musicians.

“Practice, practice practice,” he said. “Then practice some more. And love what you do.”

Severinsen has high praise for two San Antonio institutions, Mi Tierra restaurant and The Landing jazz club.

“Jim Cullum, and his dad, did a great job of establishing The Landing,” he said. “Jim has a great band playing music that is so identifiable. They have found their niche and they do a beautiful job.”

And when people go see Severinsen and the San Miguel 5, they’re going to want to see some flashy threads to go along with the music.

“I don’t know what I’m going to wear,” he added. “But I know I’ll be the only guy in town wearing it.”

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Doc Severinsen peforms with the RIC Concert Jazz Band

The RIC Concert Jazz Band will be accompanied by legendary trumpeter and former “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen on Monday, May 2, at 8 p.m. in the Nazarian Center’s Sapinsley Hall. Joseph Foley, RIC associate professor of music, will direct the show.

Severinsen, who toured with the Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman bands in the 1940s before becoming a staff musician at NBC in 1949, led NBC Orchestra on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1967-1992,

When “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” ended, Severinsen embarked on a new career, taking his band on the road, performing classics, jazz, pop, ballads and of course, the familiar “Tonight Show” theme. Severinsen, who is known for his wild fashions and witty repartee, is one of the most prolific, technically accomplished trumpet players ever – and he’s still going strong at 82.

“He’s a real legend, not only of trumpet, but of the music industry,” said Foley, associate professor of music at RIC. “He was one of my idols growing up, and for me to be able to bring him to work with the students is really exciting.”

The RIC Concert Jazz Band will collaborate with Severinsen on “Stardust,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Swingin’ the Blues,” “Begin the Beguine” and “Three Shades of Blue.” The band will also pay tribute to other great trumpet players, performing Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High,” Clifford Crown’s “The Blues Walk” and Thad Jones’ “Three And One.”

Foley, the studio instructor for all undergraduate and graduate trumpet students at RIC, has over 50 brass arrangements to his credit. He is the principal trumpet in the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and regularly appears with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras.

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Doc Severinsen to Host a Big Band Tribute to Lawrence Welk

LAWRENCE WELK’S BIG BAND SPLASH
 March 2011 (check local listings)
LAWRENCE WELK’S BIG BAND SPLASH, hosted by bandleader and trumpeter Doc Severinsen, is a celebration of the Big Band Era’s classic hits, performed by the great Welk Band and the talented Musical Family on the popular “Lawrence Welk Show.” Broadcast on network television from 1955 to 1982, the Welk Show has been a popular weekly series on many public television stations since 1987. LAWRENCE WELK’S BIG BAND SPLASH is part of special programming premiering on PBS stations beginning March 5, 2011 and airing throughout March.

Included in this special is Doc’s guest appearance on “The Lawrence Welk Show” in 1972, playing the Oscar-winning song, “Love Story.” And the Welk Band salutes Doc — the conductor of “The Tonight Show” Band for Johnny Carson from 1967 to 1992 — with a performance of his signature song, “Johnny’s Theme.”

This brand-new PBS special, the 17th Lawrence Welk special to be produced for public television, pays tribute to 25 legendary bandleaders including Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Count Basie, Ben Bernie, Artie Shaw, Clyde McCoy, Pete Fountain, Harry James, Bob Crosby, Sammy Kaye, Ted Lewis, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, Ray Anthony, Doc Severinsen and many others.  


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Severinsen Says Practice Makes Perfect, MHS Students Listen

For more than an hour and a half Monday, Carl Hilding “Doc” Severinsen, renowned trumpeter and leader of the NBC Orchestra during The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, spoke to a captivated crowd in a cafeteria of Manchester High School about the trials and tribulations of a life in the music industry.

He also filled the audience – many of whom were not even born the last time Severinsen played before The Tonight Show’s studio audience – in on the story of his life, which included a sojourn in the Army during World War II, his slow and steady rise to success in the recording industry and, for one young fan who was curious, the meaning of the word “druthers” (slang term for someone’s preference).

“Think seriously about what you are doing and what you want to do and do it,” Severinsen said in response to a question about his inspiration.

While another young fan wanted to know the biggest obstacle Severinsen, 83, had to overcome in his professional career.

“My biggest obstacle in my trumpeting career was myself,” Severinsen said. “By being lazy when I should have been practicing. By doing things that were not helpful to being a trumpet player, or anything else.”

He also confirmed that trumpet players make the best kissers (although he may have been operating with a bias).

Afterwards, Severinsen, and The San Miguel Five kicked off the 2011 Manchester High School Professional Concert Series in the Bailey Auditorium.

But for the more than 100 students, parents and teachers who attended Severinsen’s informal, lighthearted question and answer session, it was as instructive and entertaining as any musical performance Severinsen might have been able to muster.

“I think it was inspiring,” said Juan Vivar, a sophomore at Manchester High School who, like Severinsen, plays the trumpet. “It tells me I have to keep following my dreams.”

Having Severinsen kick off the high school’s 2011 professional concert series was something of a dream come true for Band Director Keith Berry as well.

Berry, a graduate of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, said Severinsen was an inspiration to him as a young musician. So when Berry discovered while browsing the Internet this summer that Severinsen wasn’t retired, and in fact planned to play a concert at Carnegie Hall at the end of January, he got in touch with his management, who got in touch with Severinsen, who agreed to the concert at the high school Monday. It was somewhat more complicated than that, Berry said, and might have involved an impassioned email he wrote to Severinsen.

“He’s mainly here because the guy inspired me as a student,” Berry said. “So when I found out that the very person who inspired me was still performing, I had to try to give that back to my students.”

Prior to Severinsen’s performance, the Manchester High School Jazz Ensemble was scheduled to perform Monday evening. Severinsen and The San Miguel Five will next perform with the New York Pops on Friday at Carnegie Hall, while the next schedule performance of the Manchester High School Professional Concert Series will be the U.S. Navy Band’s Sea Chanters Chorus on March 22.

By David Moran, Manchester Patch

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Gil Gutiérrez, Doc Severinsen and the San Miguel 5 at Carnegie Hall

If it hadn’t been for a fateful encounter five years ago, two extraordinary jazz virtuosos, guitarist Gil Gutiérrez and trumpeter Doc Severinsen, wouldn’t be performing together at Carnegie Hall on January 28. In fact, they wouldn’t be making music together at all. As anyone knows who has heard these artists riff off each other, that would be a loss to the world.

Gutiérrez, Severinsen and the three other fine musicians who make up the San Miguel Five play a bubbling mix of Afro-Latin, classical and Gypsy Jazz so infectious that it’s almost impossible to hear it and sit still. At Carnegie Hall they will join the New York Pops for a program that ranges from Manuel de Falla and Ennio Morricone to Django Reinhardt.

The prospect of this much crossover going on in a single program may raise the eyebrows of some purists. Quite often, I’m a purist myself. But I’ve heard Gutiérrez and Severinsen play together in both small and large venues, and I can say that, when artists as brilliant as these are so moved, they transcend categories. When they do, who cares about naming the genre? It’s music, pure and simple.

The 83-year-old Severinsen has long been one of great trumpeters of our time. His lines are supple and melodic, his tone is silky. In mood, he can swivel from southern sunshine to deepest blues. Gutiérrez is far less well known but equally brilliant. Seeped in classical, Latin American and jazz traditions from an early age, he plays guitar as if he were born to it.

The roots of the Gutiérrez-Severinson collaboration go back to 2006. It began one night when Severinsen, who is best known for leading the NBC Orchestra on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show for more than 20 years, walked into a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, the beautiful colonial town in central Mexico, and heard Gutiérrez and his group playing Latin jazz.

Gutiérrez, who’d lived in San Miguel for 30 years, had a regular gig with his group at the local restaurant. Almost everyone in town knew and loved his music. But until Severinsen walked in that night, Gil Gutiérrez was San Miguel’s best-kept secret. Severinsen was 78 years old at the time. He’d just moved to San Miguel and he considered himself retired.

He didn’t have to listen long before he knew he was in the presence of something extraordinary. “My God,” he said to his companions. “These musicians aren’t just good. They’re world class!”

Before the night was over, Severinsen had introduced himself to Gutiérrez and was talking about jamming. Not long after that, he began performing with the group, and even recorded a few numbers for their album En Mi Corazon. Group gigs with various symphony orchestras soon followed. By then, Severinsen had realized he was too inspired to stay retired. As for Gutiérrez, he wasn’t San Miguel’s secret anymore.

“Now wherever we go,” Gutiérrez says, “the theaters are packed.” Recent gigs have included performances with symphony orchestras in Nashville, Minneapolis and Seattle, and an appearance at the International Trumpet Festival in Mexico City, where they played with the legendary trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

“I love playing with small groups, but I also enjoy performing with symphony orchestras,” says Gutiérrez, who currently divides his time between small venues in San Miguel and orchestra dates in the United States. “A quintet is more intimate. But being part of a symphonic orchestration is beautiful!”

For the Carnegie Hall date, Gutiérrez, Severinsen and the San Miguel Five will collaborate with the New York Pops, under the baton of Steven Reineke, performing arrangements that embrace Argentine tango, swing, flamenco fusion, Gypsy jazz, and classical. The other members of the San Miguel Five are Grammy award-winning violinist Charlie Bisharat, Cuban percussionist Jimmy Branly and bass player Kevin Thomas.

Last August I was privileged to hear four members of the group perform at the Angela Peralta theater in San Miguel, along with pianist Eugenio Toussaint and violinist Pedro Cartas. They brought down the house with a fierce and poetic performance.

“Although we were in an old opera house in the middle of Mexico,” says David Melville, an American expatriate who was there that night, “the music transported me around the world, to smoky Parisian cafes, Italian piazzas, Cuban beaches and the peaks of the Andes.”

Amidst the mad, high energy of the show, filled with Severinsen’s sparkling trumpet solos, demon guitar work by Gutiérrez, propulsive Cuban beats, and a moment when percussionist Branly rushed center stage to drum on Gutiérrez’s guitar, there were also meditative pieces that linger in the memory still.

One was the melancholy “Lagrima del Toro,” an elegy composed by Gutiérrez for the hundreds of Mexican women who’ve been murdered over the last two decades in Ciudad Juarez. Gutiérrez began a haunting melody on his guitar, then passed it to the violin of Cartas, where it sang lyrically, before being interrupted by the muted cry of Severinsen’s trumpet, then scattering into Tousaint’s jazzy piano riffs.

Another was a rendition of the old Mexican chestnut “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” which Gutiérrez and Cartas interpreted as a simple, unadorned duet, and filled with soulful resonance.

How is it that some musicians are able to locate the spirit of a tune and soar with it, while others idly embroider it with their trills? I suspect it’s a special musical sensitivity that appears in childhood, long before an artist begins the arduous practice and the scales.

Born in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, Gutiérrez first fell in love with classical music as a 9-year-old boy, when his single mother enrolled him in sculpture classes at the local arts academy. As he worked with clay, he could hear the seductive sounds of cellos and pianos coming from nearby rooms.

But when he was finally allowed to study cello, the young Gutiérrez encountered a major obstacle. There weren’t enough cellos to go around at the school, and his family didn’t have the money to buy him one. He quickly shifted over to the guitar, a much more affordable instrument.

“In the beginning, I liked the Beatles,” reminisces Gutiérrez. “My favorite song was ‘Something.’ But, after I heard Bach and the great composers, I forgot about the Beatles.”

By the time he was 14, Gutiérrez was playing classical guitar in the restaurants of Oaxaca. At 17, he teamed up with jazz guitarist Wolfgang “Lobo” Fink, and they traveled north to San Miguel where they landed a gig at a local bar. Then came a stint in Mexico City, where Gutiérrez studied jazz and paid his dues playing on the city buses.

Eventually, he returned to San Miguel to marry, raise a family and become the darling of town’s large community of American and Canadian expatriates who support a thriving music and art scene in town.

Although these days a move north might make some career sense for him, Gutiérrez is passionately devoted to this town in foothills of the Sierra Madre. “The quality of life in San Miguel is very high,” he says. “I cannot imagine living any other place.”

Once Severinsen retired to the famously bohemian San Miguel, it was only a matter of time before the paths of the two musicians crossed. When they did, Severinsen’s early career in New York during the fifties, playing in the Latin bands of Tito Puente and Noro Morales, insured he and Gutiérrez would connect on the same wavelength.

“Gil gave me new life with his music,” Severinsen is now famous for telling everyone. “I thank Doc for teaching me to appreciate music with my heart,” Gutiérrez answers back.

This Friday evening at Carnegie Hall, New Yorkers will have a chance to hear Gutiérrez, Severinsen and the San Miguel Five in action. It promises to be a memorable night. Of course, if you can’t make it Friday, you can still check them out on CD, or visit San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to hear them on home turf.

By Mona Molarsky © 2011
NY City Life Examiner

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Doc Severinsen KPLU Radio Interview

SEATTLE, WA (KPLU) – Grammy Award winning trumpeter Doc Severinsen comes to the Pacific Northwest for a concert next weekend. Probably best known as the flashy dressed bandleader for Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” Orchestra, Severinsen had a career that spanned sixty-five years, and is back on the road after a very brief retirement. KPLU’s Kevin Kniestedt caught up with the eighty-three year old musician while on tour.

 Full Interview

Kevin: For 25 years, Doc Severinsen was the best known trumpet player in America, as his band played the theme song that brought Johnny Carson out on stage to begin The Tonight Show. But Doc’s career began long before he was on television. In fact he still remembers his first paid music job.

 Doc: It was during the depression the Great Depression. I played at the Blaylock Grange Hall out in the middle of a bunch of wheat fields. They had what they called then a Hard Times Dance. I got fifty cents for it, and I thought to myself, “wow”.

Kevin: Severinsen never looked back, touring with some of the best bandleaders ever, including Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Barnet.

Doc: It was sort of like being in a rock band sort of is today. You know, you go to a ballroom or a concert hall, and they were always jam packed. They knew everybody in the band, they knew every song we were going to play. It was like riding a huge wave. It was wonderful.

Kevin: In the early fifties, Doc decided it was time to settle down.

Doc: I had a wife and a daughter. It was time to get off the road, and I had a life long love affair with New York. So I settled there, and pretty soon through some things that occurred, I got some notice, and was hired to work at NBC as a staff musician.

Kevin: That staff musician job led to being hired as a trumpet player for the Tonight Show band when Steve Allen was hosting the show. Jack Parr became the host after Steve Allen left, and the NBC decided to hire a new host by the name of Johnny Carson.

Doc: After about a year, the producer of the show came to me (he also produced Johnny’s road shows) and he said “You know, Johnny wants you to come in and take over the band on the show. He’s not happy with the way things are going, and he’d like you to come in and try it and just see how it goes”. I said “Absolutely.” And it was the single biggest break of my life.

Kevin: Doc offered more than leading the band. He would fill in as an announcer when Ed McMahon was off, and he and Johnny Carson would often take part in some quick-witted banter: 

Johnny: Get that Mickey Mouse outfit together and have them sit down. What are you going to do tonight, doctor?

Doc: Well we are going to stand around and wait for you to decide whether we are a band or an orchestra.

Johnny: What would you prefer to be called?

Doc: Sweetheart.

Kevin: Severinsen was also known for his loud wardrobe.

Doc: My first night on the show, I thought “Wow. What am I going to wear?” So I was walking down a street in New York, and passed a place that sold ties. And they had some really wild ties. And (I) wore one on the show that night. And I come out, and it was like throwing raw meat to a lion. He just went right for it. And I would come out every night in something that was pretty far out. And after I had been on the show for a lot of years, one night I just said “Aw, the heck with it. I am just going to wear a blue suit tonight.” Well, I gave a cutoff to the band, and went up to my dressing room, and there was an immediate message from Johnny: “What in the hell was wrong with your outfit tonight?” And it never happened again.

Kevin: When Johnny Carson retired from the Tonight Show, Severinsen left NBC as well. He took a good portion of the Tonight Show Band on the road, recorded a few albums, was a guest conductor for a few symphony orchestras, and then headed to Mexico to retire or so he thought.

Doc: I had been told by a next door neighbor “You’ve got to go hear these guys play at the so-and-so restaurant.

Kevin: “These guys” were guitarist Gil Gutierrez and violinist Pedro Cartas, who make up the band El Ritmo de la Vida, or “the rhythm of life”.

Doc: I think I dropped my cutlery and looked up and thought “Holy Cow! These guys are great. They’re not just good, these are world class musicians.”

Doc: So I made some calls to the states to see if we could get some dates up here for them. And they said “Yeah, but you’ve got to play with them too.” That hadn’t really occurred to me. So after a couple of months of trying to integrate the trumpet in with the guitar and violin, it worked. 

Doc: Somebody asked us what kind of music we called it. I said “I don’t know.” They said “Well it sounds like world music.” I said “Good, then it’s world music”. 


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At 82, Severinsen still makes the grade

Doc Severinsen & El Ritmo de la Vida
Pioneer Press

By Dan Emerson

Few musicians retire willingly. Most prefer to keep playing their music as long as they can, if their performances are up to snuff.

Former “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen, who led his Mexico-based quintet Monday night at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, is a prime example.

The trumpeter, who will turn 83 on July 7, ended his 25-year run with Johnny Carson in 1992. In 2007, he retired as principal pops conductor for several symphony orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra, and moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

There, he met a group of local jazz musicians in a cafe and eventually formed his current ensemble, El Ritmo de la Vida (“The Rhythm of Life”).

The group’s repertoire is a heady blend of traditional Mexican music, Argentine tango, Spanish flamenco and gypsy jazz.

Severinsen’s group on the current tour includes one other fairly well-known U.S. musician — violinist Sid Page, who was a stalwart of the popular ’70s swing band, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

Monday’s opening set included an unidentified flamenco piece (with a trumpet part evocative of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”) and two pieces by the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

One was “Libertango,” with the melody played in unison by Severinsen, Page and guitarist Gil Gutierrez. Cuban-born percussionist Jimmy Branly laid down a brisk beat with brushes on his snare drum, supported by upright bassist Kevin Thomas.

Along with various strains of Latin music, Severinsen’s group also plays some gypsy jazz in the style of the great Django Reinhardt. In that vein, the opening set included a brisk run through violinist Joe Venuti’s “Minor Swing,” with Page taking the lead.

Gutierrez, who spends most of his time finger-picking his nylon-string guitar, did some virtuoso flat-picking on his solo.

The set-closer was a lengthy, complicated tango by Piazzolla, with many shifts of tempo, rhythm and dynamics along the way.

Based on Severinsen’s solos on this and other tunes, he doesn’t seem to have lost much of his power and control over his instrument, whether blowing open or muted horn.

When he wasn’t playing, he did some conducting from his chair on the right side of the stage.

He certainly seems to be enjoying his current project.

“If this is retirement, I can recommend it highly,” he told the Dakota audience.

Severinsen and El Ritmo de la Vida will perform again tonight at the Dakota at 7:30 and 9:30.

Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.

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Pops still young at heart

Doc Severinsen & the Boston Pops
Boston Herald

By Keith Powers

Celebrating popular culture has made the Boston Pops what it is, and so it’s no surprise that opening its 125th anniversary season on Tuesday evening at Symphony Hall included a nod to favorites from Gershwin to “Glee.”

For the bulk of the century and a quarter, the Pops has had three just directors: Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and current maestro Keith Lockhart. Each has left his own stamp on the orchestra, and the splashy three-part program honored all of them.

The survey of Fiedler’s distinctive taste was all American, including some things patriotic (“National Emblem March”), and some things kitschy (Leroy Anderson’s idiosyncratic and enjoyable “Typewriter,” which served as a soundtrack to a video retrospective of the colorful Fiedler years). But it also had some real substance: Gershwin’s great “Rhapsody in Blue,” turned nicely (albeit in a bowdlerized version) by Pops regular Michael Chertock, as well as the most eloquent tribute of the night, featuring concertmaster Tamara Smirnova, who soloed gracefully in a timeless Pops favorite, “Jalousie,” the first million-selling recording of any kind, as Lockhart pointed out.

The highlight of the John Williams section was an appearance by 82-year-old Doc Severinsen. Doc, looking outrageously fit – and outrageously attired in a floral shirt and sequined tux – caught most of the notes in a Beethoven-inspired arrangement written especially for him. The Williams tribute filled out with several selections from his substantial repertory, including the Olympic theme and the unforgettable music from “E.T.” and “Star Wars.”

Anticipating public taste is how Lockhart described Fiedler in his introductory remarks, and the inclusion of Broadway star Idina Menzel made it seem like Lockhart fills that description pretty well himself. The Tony-Award-winning singer, well known already for roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” and soon to join the irrepressible cast of “Glee,” belted out a selection of show tunes, showing she knew her way around a mike, and building anticipation for concert-length appearances with the Pops tonight and tomorrow.

Pops being Pops, there was a steady fill of extra-musical activity, including a Beatles karaoke singalong and a birthday cake especially created by celebrity chef Duff Goldman, who got to conduct “Stars and Stripes” for his baking troubles. The high profile anniversary season runs through June 20 at Symphony Hall and continues with a July Tanglewood appearance featuring Alec Baldwin narrating a world premiere and a free September concert on Boston Common. Happy birthday, and many happy returns, to America’s orchestra.

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Severinsen finds his gypsy in latest band

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Tom Strini

Doc Severinsen moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 2007 to retire. Then he had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where violinist Pedro Cartas and guitarist Gil Gutierrez were playing.

“I dropped my fork and my spoon and everything else,” Severinsen said, from the site of a second home he’s building just outside San Miguel de Allende. “I couldn’t believe what these guys were doing.”

Thus began a chain of events leading to a concert set for Friday at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater. Trumpeter Severinsen, Cartas, Gutierrez, percussionist Miguel Favero and bassist Gilberto Gonzalez will play a benefit for the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s new Jazz Institute.

They call the band El Ritmo de la Vida. They were here in September, as a featured act with the Milwaukee Symphony Pops. Severinsen, of course, was the MSO’s principal pops conductor from 1994 to 2007. By all accounts, that show went very well.

But the Pops show, with a full orchestra in tow, required arrangements and constricted the band somewhat. The Pabst concert will be closer to the group’s Italian restaurant show.

Yes, Doc – who will turn 82 on July 7, who became a household name after decades on the “The Tonight Show” – plays three or four nights a week in a restaurant in Mexico.

“I’m the only one who doesn’t get paid,” he said.

From the name (“The Rhythm of Life”) and the makeup of the band, you might think they specialize in Latin jazz. Actually, they’re eclectic. A lot of jazz standards are in their repertoire, and the influence of French gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli is apparent in the playing o  Gutierrez and Cartas. You can hear a wonderful, and very Hot Club of France, treatment of “Sweet Georgia Brown” at the Ritmo Web site.

“Almost everything we do has some sort of a gypsy feel,” Severinsen said. “We never write anything down. We just play, and it takes us a long time to settle on how the music will go. We just kind of arrive there.”

Severinsen’s connections got the band the Pops jobs and North American tours, but he is a band member, not the star of the show. That’s the way he wants it.

“Gil and Pedro – they’re the originals,” he said. “They’ve played together for 22 years, and they have their own following. They don’t speak much English, and when I first went up to them all I got were blank stares. They had no idea who I was.”

One of them is married to an American, who filled them in on Doc’s history. That quickly led to an invitation to sit in on an album that was in progress at the time. The fellow who owns the tiny recording studio in Mexico where they made that album is now the sound technician on their tours.

The recording session led to a standing invitation to play at the restaurant.

“It took me six months to get up the nerve to do that,” Severinsen said. “I’ve been practicing more than I have in years, just to get ready for these guys. You’d be surprised at how often it hits me, when I’m sitting there playing, that I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life. I still can’t get over it.”

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