Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s special concert “Here’s Doc! Celebrating 60 Years in Show Business” was an enjoyable night of classic big band style. Doc Severinsen’s charm, trumpet talent and flashy suits were in full display.
Doc entered the stage to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson talk show theme song in chartreuse slacks and rhinestone peacock blazer, picked up his trumpet and wailed his signature lead line just as he did for 30 years on television. His witty repartee with Carson set the standard for talk show bandleaders to come like Letterman/Schaffer or Colbert/Batiste. His gregarious, self-effacing congeniality instantly warmed up the audience with his remembrance of playing before in the old Fort Worth convention center with an, “orchestra of beautiful people I’m proud to call my friends.”
Stories of his musical education followed. Like when at 14 years old, after meeting Tommy Dorsey (to which the knowledgeable audience swooned), he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life hearing that legendary jazz band play “Well, Git It.” And the audience got it. Turning his bedazzled back and properly under-conducting his touring band perfectly balanced with the FWSO, then turning back to intersperse his trumpet’s swinging higher register. 88-year-old embouchure be damned.
He said that from 2 years old he was a problem child, and that it is still true today. “I’ve got the alimony checks to prove it,” he joked. 60 years in show business apparently has its costs. His “no warning label parties,” as he put it, led to an intervention saying, “you realize that you’re not riding the horse anymore, the horse was riding me.” His honesty about his more than 50 year sobriety endeared him to the audience as he introduced a cautionary tale title song from the movie The Days of Wine and Roses about a family torn apart by alcoholism. “If there’s anyone here tonight for which it might be a problem do yourself a favor. Look into it. I did and my life is so much better for it.” Public service announcement, over he made all our lives better with his next introduction.
Severinsen kept in the Dorsey tradition as the last of the big name big band leaders by featuring new vocal talent. In 1940 that was Frank Sinatra. In 2015 this is Vanessa Thomas. Her dramatic, silken amber voice improved on another movie title song with “Singin’ in the Rain” but the added surprise of Puccini’s aria “Un Bel Di” from Madame Butterfly was a revelation. Her song-ending, scalp-tingling, opera-owning high notes were enough, sans staging or supertitles, to convince anyone of her bright future. But all that combined with her soulful command of “Every Day I Have the Blues” and you know you’re hearing something new. Even “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess need not insist on suitable operetta delivery. Singing style selection of classical technique or jazz belt or some all of the above hybrid, with Vanessa Thomas is no longer a choice. It is only her voice. Having explained he discovered her at a benefit concert in Kansas, “Are you looking at a proud father?” Doc asked over one of several standing ovations.
Back to his pedigree and his old friend Louis Armstrong, Severinsen did a vocal and spot-on trumpet impersonation with “Mack the Knife” from Three Penny Opera. So enamored with him was the audience that shouts of, “We love you Doc!” called out between songs while his pelvis swinging response of, “Are you ready?!” began the next one. This silver haired, silver tongued, glittering showman had all the goods.
Before the duet of Doc and FWSO Associate Concertmaster Swang Lin on the Tommy Newsom arranged “Caruso” about two lovers parting he joked that Lin had a problem with playing the part of the girl. To which he reminded Lin of his New Jersey connections and the head violinist immediately conceded. Laughing aside, after the heartbreakingly beautiful playing between the two Severinsen admitted that he, “never enjoyed it more” and that, “something must be in the air conditioning here, I always have such a joyous time.”
Sincere evidence that the FWSO deserve our pride and support.
» You can hear Doc again locally when he performs with the Plano Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 24 at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson.