Doc was Doc on Friday evening, with his spangled pale lavender jacket and all the usual outrageous but absolutely genuine showmanship. Wonderful!
But I'm not sure Duke was always Duke.
This concert celebrating the late Duke Ellington's 100th year was described by Doc Severinsen, right up front, as "The Symphonic Duke." No subterfuge or trickery. That's what we got.
Arrangements were mostly by Tommy Newsom, and were expert by most standards.
And when "Mood Indigo" opened with just Doc on muted trumpet, Phil Sims on muted trombone, and Bobby Militello quietly blending in his alto sax, the intimacy and impingement of those three sounds on each other was mesmerizing. Likewise, "Sophisticated Lady" was rich sounding and sinuously flowing, while "Lush Life" was very soulfully poured out by Doc in the cushier sound of the Fluegelhorn.
But while the introduction to "Take the 'A' Train" with its Doppler effect of swelling and diminishing railroad bells and other imitative sounds was quite ingenious, it lasted so long we thought the real "A Train" tune would never arrive. When it did, the arrangement was extremely full and complex, without much reference to the gritty but memorable sound textures and crisp rhythmic patterns of Duke's original.
Many of the other arrangements had a similar feeling of opulence at some sacrifice of the Duke's integrity.
Singer Barbara Morrison revealed a soulful blues style on "I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," over one of Newsom's better arrangements, and a good rhythmic sense on "Satin Doll." Her opening improvisations on "Do Nothin' 'Til You Hear From Me," however, had been adventurous almost to the point of being out of tune.
In "Perdido" Newsom's clever introduction used a basic phrase from the theme repetitively in the brass section as a tease, then finally the distinctive full theme was articulated by Doc's trumpet.
Another tune that lent itself well to this type of arrangement was "The Mooche," which was wailed out by Doc and the orchestra in Ellington's celebrated early "Jungle Style."
Buffalo Philharmonic Pops with Doc Severinsen
Duke Ellington Centenary Tribute
Friday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall; repeated today, 8 p.m.