A Night of Jazz: Wilmington's Memorial Hall hosts 'Porgy and Bess'

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WILMINGTON >> "Porgy and Bess" is taking on yet another form in the Deerfield Valley this weekend.

Vocalist Samirah Evans and the George Kaye Quintet will cover the George Gershwin opera in the style of the Miles Davis and Gil Evans Orchestra recording done in 1958 at Historic Memorial Hall in downtown Wilmington on Saturday. The show starts at 8 p.m.

Samirah Evans "hatched the plan two or three months ago," Kaye told the Reformer. Rehearsals started in the beginning of the month.

"I was looking up a theme for my show at Memorial Hall and so I was just coming up with some different ideas," Samirah Evans said. "When I thought of it, I thought, 'Wow. This is a perfect idea because I know just the perfect person who would be interested in being the musical director.'"

Kaye was so steep in "Porgy and Bess" and also received a master's degree in composition and arrangement, Evans said of the production's musical director.

"I was an unsuspecting victim," said Kaye.

One of the challenges for Kaye taking on the Davis/Gil Evans interpretation involved reducing the orchestra by about 15 members. He said he has no idea when he started sitting down to translate the material.

All the songs were made for voices. But Gil Evans arranged the music for his small orchestra. And his band was different.

"It's a jazz orchestra," Kaye said, describing the group that played on Davis' "Miles Ahead" album. "Sonically, it's a great match for Miles' (Davis) sound because Miles changed the sound of horns."

Previously, he said, everyone sounded like Louie Armstrong.

Tickets are available for $18 in advance on historicmemorialhall.com or Turn It Up in downtown Brattleboro, and can be purchased the day of the concert for $20. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Tapped for the Memorial Hall show were all great musicians and sight readers, according to Kaye. He said a piano, which was not used on the Davis recording, is taking the place of 12 or 13 instruments.

"They all know the music and know what we're looking to do. They all respect the endeavor," he said of the musicians. "One of the things that's essential to this music is the enormous melodic content that Gershwin put in there. It's just loaded with melodies and counter melodies and lines that go behind lines, and that's what Gil (Evans) used and orchestrated. And he gave it a unique beauty."

Samirah Evans and Kaye, a bassist, will share the stage with Miro Sprauge on piano, Michael Zsoldos on reeds, Eric Miller on trombone and Claire Arenius on drums.

"Samirah's (Evans) singing the lead parts," Kaye said. "She's another musician in this presentation, which is unique for her."

She said she normally performs in ways that are "very improvisational" and she takes her own approach to songs.

"That's my challenge. Here I am approximating the sounds of Miles Davis with lyrics. So for me, this is probably the most challenging presentations I've done in my entire career," said Samirah Evans, thanking Kaye for his support in the project. "He's given me all the tools I need for the show. I've been working my butt off in order for me to be part of this whole orchestration that George (Kaye) has adapted."

The second half of the show — the set featuring songs from "Porgy and Bess" — is approximately 40 minutes long, although Kaye said he hasn't timed out the performances or settled on the number of solos.

The night begins with popular Gershwin standards.

"That's going to warm us up to 'Porgy and Bess,'" Samirah Evans said.

Part of the reasoning behind covering the Davis/Evans recording is Kaye's feeling that more people need to hear it. And the musicians are excited, too.

"I can't stress their enthusiasm for this," said Kaye. "I guess it's my unstated mission to get this in front of people. There's so much good stuff in there."

The enthusiasm is shared by those organizing events at Memorial Hall.

"I'm so looking forward to this presentation," said Joe Levy, chairman for the Historic Memorial Hall Board. "(Kaye) did a magnificent job adapting selections from the Miles Davis/Gil Evans rendition of 'Porgy and Bess' for the show. The accompanying band will be stellar. We are working very hard to assure you a gratifying performance and I'm very proud to present and share this work with you."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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