by Robert LeeperIra Glass, the storytelling public radio icon, might at first seem an odd choice for a holiday concert. But, there he was Friday night at The Town Hall’s second annual Gotham Holiday Swing. Built around bandleader and jazz historian Vince Giordano and his crisp band, the Nighthawks, the evening featured a patchwork of artists from across the Holiday-loving sphere.
The old fashioned variety show was rich with Jazz Age gems. Giordano took full advantage of disparate talents of each performer, coming together to create improvisatory duos and trios among a grab bag of holiday jazz standard and novelty songs. There was a touch of uptown, with snippets of Ellington’s classic arrangement of The Nutcracker in “Sugar Rum Cherry.” David Johansen’s alter ego, the late night novelty song singer Buster Poindexter, set his sights squarely on Louis Armstrong's growl on “Zat You, Santa Claus?”
Giordano slowed the program for a moment of introspection during “The Little Drummer Boy” featuring trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, vocalist Sofia Rei, and percussionist Pedrito Martinez. The three hit a deep, polyrhythmic groove, with Ms. Skonberg trading trumpet licks with Ms. Rei’s smooth scat singing, cooly breathing new life into a tired standard.
Ira Glass broke things up with a pair of solo segments. The first referenced a holiday-themd episode of his long-running radio show This American Life that recounted his experience growing up Jewish, and children coming up with Christmas jokes. The second was a segment from his recent stage show Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, which ran at The Town Hall in September and is currently touring. It featured the fabulous dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass. Other featured performers included the Xylopholks, legendary jazz violinist Regina Carter, and vocalists Molly Ryan and Kat Edmonson.
Throughout the evening, the Nighthawks held it all together. With crisp brass stabs and neatly packaged solos, they brought a Christmas show from between the two World Wars to life—an era they’ve mastered as the house band on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Skonberg was featured several times on vocals and trumpet, and used her plunger for a sound that could have come straight from the Ellington band.
The unabashedly fun holiday show was a romp through the easy charm of the Jazz Age and rang in the holiday with style and swing.