TV gets jazzed up
The Colby Faculty Jazz Quintet entertained audience members on Saturday night in Given Auditorium in Bixler with a program of, in the words of guitarist Carl Dimow, “TV themes, or songs that could be TV themes.” Eric Thomas (clarinet and saxophone), Mark Tipton (trumpet), Rick Bishop (bass guitar) and Mark Macksoud (drums) joined Dimow for the playful set, with accompaniment from Jonathan Mastro on piano.
The group opened with a rendition of Jeff Beal’s theme song for television’s popular detective/comedy series Monk, starring Tony Shalhoub as the lovably neurotic title character, Adrian Monk. The quintet offered a slower, jazzier, more subdued version of Beal’s plucky, acoustic guitar-driven track, giving most of the forefront to saxophone and trumpet rather than strumming.
Shifting the focus from string to wind instruments, removing the xylophone-playing present in the original track and slowing the pace removed some of the whimsy of the made-for-TV composition but brought out a surprising smoothness in the song not even hinted at in the televised version.
Moving from a real TV theme to a fictitious one, Dimow introduced “Klezmer Chop Suey,” a song he “envisioned as a theme for a comedy about the Jewish Mafia in the 1920s.”
The fast-paced composition, driven along by Dimow’s up tempo percussion, featured the trademark klezmer sound, with funky clarinet and saxophone playing mimicking human laughter and singing in the inimitable style of the musical tradition indigenous to the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe, sounding like the flapper music of the decade the apocryphal show is set in meets Fiddler on the Roof.
After Dimow’s arrangement, Macksoud left and then re-entered the auditorium in character as Fred Rogers, host of the eponymous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He sat down on a bench off to the side of the auditorium, put on sneakers and a gray cardigan sweater à la the show’s host as Mastro softly played the opening notes of the show’s well-known theme.
Macksoud took a seat behind the drums and, with musical accompaniment from the other members of the ensemble, sang an extended rendition of the song that transformed it from a pleasant albeit simple piano-backed ditty to a mellow work of jazz club material, adding gentle but driving percussion, a saxophone solo from Thomas and engaging back-and-forth between clarinet and trumpet, with Macksoud’s slow, smooth repetition of the song’s brief lyrics extending it into a full-length piece.
Following this, the group performed an admittedly bizarre original arrangement by Dimow, an amalgam of “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, the theme to the popular Showtime series about suburban drug dealers, Weeds.
The piece, humorously titled “Weeds in the Hood,” fused the lyrics from the two tunes, with Dimow delivering the lyrics, “It’s a beautiful day in the hood, won’t you be mine?” in an almost sinister fashion at the end of each verse.
Dimow’s skillful guitarwork, which served as the centerpiece of the song, slowed down the folky, country strumming of Reynolds’ funky original tune, combining with Macksoud’s understated but effective percussion and Tipton’s solo on trumpet to give the work the feel of fitting fodder for a cigarette smoke-filled nightclub.
The group next performed a jazz waltz by Tipton, a theme for a fictitious medical drama entitled “Portland Medical Co.” “I just picture a very classy scene, post-midnight,” Tipton explained. “Somebody’s lying on a stretcher, there’s a bunch of doctors drinking coffee and talking about how they’re going to take care of the patient.” The mellow and stylish tune opened with plaintive saxophone and soft percussion, conjuring up images of the lonesome hallways of a hospital in the small hours of the night before Tipton began to croon, “It’s a moonless night, they still can see/ the Portland Medical Company.”
The quintet closed with an amphetamine-induced rendition of the ever-popular I Love Lucy theme song, listed in the program as “I Love Lucy (Ruckus Rumba).” “I always liked the theme from I Love Lucy,” Tipton explained before the song. “It’s really ruckus, and fun. So we’re going to do a really fast version of I Love Lucy.”
Thomas played a spirited conga on the track, while Tipton provided the trumpet line that serves as the centerpiece of the track. Thomas and Macksoud combined for a dance-inspiring combination of percussion partway through the track that captured and enunciated the rumba spirit of the track.
The group’s treatment of the titular tune from Lucy provided a fitting end to the evening. Their energetic and unique take on the song epitomizing the group’s playfulness and whimsical approach to their music.
Music students at Colby must delight at the opportunity to see their instructors practicing their passion and visibly having so much fun doing it at these informal and entertaining faculty performances.