Music of Ella in the spotlight at Adrian concertWritten by Renee Lapham Collins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When one thinks “symphony,” it’s easy to conjure up a Mozart concerto or a Bach fugue. But Ella Fitzgerald? Not a typical symphonic choice.
Yet, for John Thomas Dodson, artistic and musical director of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra, there is no real line between symphonic and swing.
“I always think of Duke Ellington, who said there were only two kinds of music: good and bad,” Dodson said. “I played a lot of jazz in college. When I received my master’s degree from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, they gave Ella Fitzgerald an honorary doctorate. I remember seeing her and knowing this was a true legend in our midst.”
“Swingin’ with Ella,” featuring Naima Shamborguer of Detroit, will wrap up the ASO’s season at 8 p.m. June 2 in Dawson Auditorium on the campus of Adrian College. Tickets are $25 for premium seating ($23 for seniors, $15 for students) and $22 for regular seating ($20 for seniors, $10 for students) and available by calling the ASO office at (517) 264-3121. Tickets also may be ordered online at www.adriansymphony.org or purchased at the door the night of the concert.
Dodson said he first started thinking about an Ella Fitzgerald program a few years ago.
“We’ve featured programs on Benny Goodman, the Andrews sisters, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and I thought an Ella concert would be really welcome,” he said.
He first heard about Shamborguer from the musicians.
“They would say, ‘Hey, when you want a vocalist, she’s the one!’ and I started to listen to that and to get contact information on her,” Dodson said. “She’s active in the Detroit area and so, although she’ll be new to us, this is her daily bread. She has a beautiful voice — perfect for this program.”
Dodson said Saturday’s concert musicians are in this region and “largely from the world of jazz.
“It’s an area that’s rich in talent, and we reach out to those musicians to come together for these annual swing programs,” he explained. “I’m always amazed at the result. They just have this style in their blood and they bring all that background to the table from the first note of the first rehearsal.”
While Dodson is more of a “classical guy,” jazz is one of his great passions.
“When you think about musicians like Andre Previn and Leonard Bernstein, you have to rethink the whole premise of what it is to be a ‘classical’ musician now. I remember (Aaron) Copland saying that when his early music, which had some jazz-inspired passages in it, was played in Boston that audience members walked out in disgust. We’ve come a long way since then. This is a part of all those ‘American musics’ that we have made. It is a snapshot of us, of our spirit and the ways we express it. Ella is an icon. Even yet, she remains one of the things that define us.”
Programming for this kind of concert is one of the primary challenges that goes along with the staging of musicians and a vocalist. Dodson said he looked through many titles to decide what would work best for the evening.
“We’ll introduce Ella’s first big hit and then concentrate on some themes, such as her collaborative work and the famous recordings of specific composers. Those are her true legacy—music we’ll go back to for hundreds of years.”
Another challenge Dodson faces during the rehearsal is a focus on getting musicians to “trust that there can be a true ‘piano,’ a level for playing softly that they can trust.
“Jazz isn’t all loud — it needs a palate of dynamics, especially if you’re accompanying a singer,” he said.
Dodson won’t be conducting the concert but he’s usually “quite active” during the first rehearsal, and during the concert he’ll be narrating the program, relating stories about Fitzgerald’s life and music.
“We include that kind of thing on these programs because it helps contextualize everything,” he said. “This is music of a specific time so we need to remember everything from World War II to segregation.
“Everything becomes richer that way.”