The air in Kleinhans Music Hall was laced with anticipation Saturday for the long overdue return of trumpeter extraordinare Doc Severinsen with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The BPO's former principal pops conductor, Severinsen is a local musical hero to many trumpeters and Buffalonians. Saturday night's show was a wonderful homecoming for Doc, who played his heart out, and proved that Classical Equals Cool.
Carl "Doc" Severinsen began playing trumpet at age 7 and showed so much talent that he was promptly asked to join the high school band! While still in high school, he began to tour . After serving in the Army, he toured with Tommy Dorsey and clarinetist Benny Goodman before becoming first trumpet and later band leader on the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) Band. When Carson retired in 1992, Doc and many of the "Tonight Show" musicians set out on a highly successful tour, playing everything from jazz to pop.
Thirty albums and a Grammy award later, Doc was back in Buffalo Saturday to show off his awesome talent once more. After a more than five-year absence, he seemed happy to be back. He emerged amidst thunderous applause, rhinestoned and grinning in one of his flamboyant trademark outfits. Yet, the only thing flashier than his outfit was his awesome playing, which took the audience back in time to "A Night in Old Italy."
Doc soloed and conducted more than 20 songs. As a special guest, tenor Joseph Wolverton took the stage periodically to offer many illuminating renditions of classic Italian songs. His high point was "Vesti la giubba" ("laugh, clown, laugh") from I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo; his operatic voice brought tears and spine-tingling chills to all who listened. Highlights of the show included "Napoli" by Bellstedt, "Un bel di" from Madame Butterfly by Puccini, "Strings on Fire" by Henry Mancini (who also wrote the "Pink Panther" theme) and "Caruso" by Bixo/Bambridge. "Caruso" and Madame Butterfly were absolutely Doc's finest moments, showcasing the powerful range and soul in his playing. He was able to convey tear-jerkingly beautiful stories through music, something all musicians dream of.
Toward the end of the show, Doc took the audience on a trip back to old New Orleans as a tribute to the tragedy on the Gulf Coast, playing a ballad which merged into "When the Saints Go Marching In." Everyone was getting into it, from the two little boys sitting behind me singing all the words, to the orchestra musicians (especially the cellists) smiling and bopping in their seats, and nodding in approval when Doc hit a sweet note. And who said classical music isn't fun?!
After the show, I was fortunate enough to meet Doc for the second time in my life. A genuinely nice fellow, he made sure that he spoke to everyone backstage before he left. I explained that the last time I met him, I had just begun to play trumpet at age nine, and have been playing ever since. Trumpeter to trumpeter, he asked me which music schools I was looking at, and wished me lots of luck. I was never more proud to be a trumpeter. After all these years, I never forgot the valuable advice he gave me when I was nine: "You get out what you put in." After Saturday night's performance, there is no doubt in my mind that it is true!
For those unfamiliar with Doc Severinsen check out "The Very Best of Doc Severinsen."
Leah Hodge is a senior at Cheektowaga Central.