GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In baseball, Tinker to Evers to Chance was a famous combination.
Thursday night, Tchaikovsky to Ellington to Strayhorn worked wonders.
That combination shone in the instrumental element of “Swing for the Holidays with the Green Bay Jazz Orchestra” in Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
A product of the Weidner Center and UWGB Music, the concert returned after a coronavirus-caused lapse in 2020.
The 17-member orchestra draws from the UWGB faculty and prime players in the region. It’s a solid performance machine.
The unit especially lit into the Tchaikovsky-Ellington-Strayhorn material. The genius of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is grabbed by the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn creative juices and let fly in a vivid jazz landscape. Spark, energy and crispness radiated from the players in such playfully renamed sections as “Dance of the Floreadores” for “Waltz of the Flowers.”
Featured in vocal sections of the concert was the versatile Courtney Sherman of the UWGB faculty. In this program, the range was from the cute (pardon me) “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” to Nora Jones’ searching “Wintertime,” with many popular songs of the season jazzified.
Hosting the concert, as if listening from a comfy chair in a living room, script in hand, was Michelle McQuade Dewhirst of UWGB Music. Santa Claus (a fellow dressed as such) came along three times to chat with her and be part of something unique: A free raffle for audience members to future productions at the Weidner Center.
The concert gave much listening pleasure, from holiday standards with jazz treatments to the sheer musicianship of a quality instrumental group – all LIVE and in person, the way things should be in the world.
For my taste, more personality could have been infused in the thing. Courtney Sherman told a backstory for her performance of “O Holy Night” and had some byplay with Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, but that was it for connecting with the audience other than singing. Santa eventually clued in that the microphone he held was for being heard. The orchestra played wonderfully, but it is more than a collection of automatons or cogs in a wheel. These are established, keen players with names – and each could have been introduced, no matter the time that would take in a program of 75 minutes.
Other Grinch thoughts lie about, but the performance went down well with the audience, who supplied a standing ovation at the conclusion.
Green Bay Jazz Orchestra
Adam Gaines, director
Courtney Sherman, vocals
Woodwinds: John Salerno (alto sax), Lada Gaines (alto sax), José Encarnacion (tenor sax, clarinet), Ken Barhite (tenor sax), Sam Stranz (baritone sax)
Trombones: Andrew Zipperer, Tim Albright, Eric High, Kyle Siegrist
Trumpets: John Daniel, Adam Gaines, Pat Phalen, Kameron Jennings
Rhythm section: Mike Fischer (piano), Matt Hillman (guitar), Andrew Bader (bass), Bill Sallak (drums)
“Volga Vouty” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Irving Berlin, adapted by Alan Glasscock/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – John Marks, arranged by Frank DeVol/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Winter Wonderland” – Felix Bernard and Richard Bernard Smith, adapted by Myles Collins/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Let It Snow” – Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, arranged by Riamantas Giedraitis/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Blue Christmas” – Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Linus & Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi, arranged by Mark Taylor
“Christmastime is Here” – Vince Guardaldi, arranged by David Pugh
“Peanut Brittle Brigade” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
“Sugar Rum Cherry” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
“Danse of the Floreadores” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
“Wintertime” – Norah Jones/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Last Christmas” – George Michael, arranged by Jesper Riis/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Oh Holy Night” – Adolphe Adam and John Dwight, arranged by Ed Wilson/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“Sleigh Ride” – Leroy Anderson, arranged by J. Mitchell Parish and John LaBarbera/ Courtney Sherman, vocals
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Eddie Pola and George Wyle, arranged by Denver Bierman
“Jingle Bells” – James Pierpont
THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.
THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.