'Why Jazz?' offers short answers to big questions

Downtown After Dark

The answer to “Who was the first great jazz saxophonist?” is, of course, Sidney Bechet, but Whitehead really did his homework. First he identifies the obscure Six Brown Brothers who recorded “Down Home Rag” in 1915.

“Why Jazz?” also describes the Dixieland revival of the 1940s, deals briefly with the civil rights movement’s effect on the music and explains Wynton Marsalis’ role on the current scene.

In his introduction, Whitehead answers the oft-heard query, “Isn’t jazz old-fashioned?”

“No,” he writes, “because music with substantial improvised content constantly updates itself.”

That’s an encouraging observation.

Cat to sing at Palace Theater

Reading Whitehead’s book is one way to celebrate April as Jazz Appreciation Month. Another way is to buy a ticket to Cat Russell’s April 28 show at the Palace Theater.

The Grammy Award-winning vocalist is a native New Yorker and a graduate of American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Cat’s father, the late Luis Russell, was a pioneering pianist who led his own orchestras and worked extensively with Louis Armstrong. Ms. Russell has toured the world, performing and recording with David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein and Rosanne Cash. Since the 2006 release of her debut album, “Cat,” she has issued three acclaimed albums including her latest, “Strictly Romancin.’”

Cat sings at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Palace Theater, 2384 James St., in Eastwood; $20/general, $15/WAER members, SU staff and students; 463-9240. Russell’s appearance here is hosted by WAER-FM 88.3.

The NYC singer will be accompanied by pianist Mark Shane, guitarist Matt Munisteri and bassist Lee Hudson.

Wilder classic in Caz

An earnest cast of more than two dozen gives a reverential reading of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town,” running through April 22 at the Catherine Cummings Theatre at Cazenovia College.

Directed by artist-in-residence David Lowenstein, a graduate of Syracuse University, the production adheres faithfully to Wilder’s minimalist vision. The lack of props and scenery keeps the focus squarely on human interaction. In fact, Lowenstein actually augments Wilder’s humanism with two daring alterations.

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