Friday, May 21, 2010

The Anderson Twins and their band celebrate Artie Shaw's centennial

Some of my most enjoyable musical experiences in New York have been at 59E59 Theaters. The intimacy is just right for cabaret shows, but also, as I discovered Wednesday night, for big band music as well.

I was thoroughly, thoroughly swept away by the Anderson Twins and their band as they celebrated Artie Shaw’s centennial, with nods to Benny Goodman as well.

There has never been more beautiful popular music than that of the 1930s and 40s, and no better way to enjoy it than with a band of first-rate musicians, which these are. Twins Pete (right in photo) and Will Anderson each play clarinet and saxophone with a devotion that is apparent in every note. They are backed by Jon-Erik Kelso on trumpet, Clovis Nicolas on bass, Ehud Asherie on piano and Steve Little, a veteran of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, on drums, playing improvisations as well as original arrangements.

How refreshing it is to see musicians in suits and ties and to listen to a band free of amplification. Not one microphone is used. This is a real treat for someone like me who spends so many nights in Broadway theatres have her eardrums blast out with hideously overly amplified sound.

And, oh, did those songs ever sound wonderful! So many of my favorites -- “Avalon,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Moonglow,” a sublime “Concerto for Clarinet,” a transporting “Begin the Beguine,” Shaw’s signature song, and rousing “Shine.”

The twins, handsome 23-year-old men with a self-effacing Jimmy Stewart charm, talked to the audience from time to time, making us feel connected. Luckily it wasn’t with the all-too-frequent self-involved celebrity chatter; it was almost always about the music, and if their comments were personal, they were in how the music related to their lives.

And it has been part of their lives since they were 9 years old growing up in Bethesda, MD, when they started playing clarinet. The first song they learned was “Stardust” after hearing Shaw’s 1941 rendition. Their parents also bought them recordings of Goodman, Ellington and Count Basie and they were hooked on the big band sound.

Pete told a story of how he and Will almost met the man who had influenced them so profoundly. Shaw was to be honored on Jan. 5, 2005 with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award; previous winners include Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. The twins would be playing clarinet at the ceremony in Long Beach, CA, and looked forward to meeting and possibly even having a conversation with the legendary band leader. Shaw had made plans to be there, but died six days before.

Well, they might not have gotten to meet their hero, but they continue to honor him with concerts like the one at 59E59. When Peter announced after two hours -- which flew by -- that they would be performing their last song, the audience groaned and several called out “NO!”

You will not hear anything better musically on a New York stage this month. The Shaw/Goodman show continues through Sunday and is followed by “The Anderson Twins Celebrate Artie Shaw at 100 with Daryl Sherman,” running from May 25 through May 30. Sherman is an appropriate choice for this centennial celebration, having been handpicked by Shaw to be his vocalist when he re-formed his band in 1983 after a 25-year retirement.

Both programs are part of 59E59 Theaters’ Americas Off Broadway series. Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at For more information visit 
If you are unable to make it to either show, the twins play every Thursday night at the EBar at the theater, between Madison and Park, from around 10:30 to midnight -- and it's free. They will start up again in two weeks after the Shaw concerts are over.


Arnold said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Retta Blaney said...

Thank you for writing, Arnold -- and for reading!

James Reardon-Anderson said...

I caught the Anderson Twins last week and could not agree more. Great music, great show. I will DEFINITELY be back next week for more!

pete_ra said...