One of the many things I love about Portland is that theater and music are everywhere! Last night we took the number 15 to The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall downtown and enjoyed “Swing is the Thing”.
But first, dinner! The Artbar, a pretty restaurant in the same theater complex, fed us not-too-fancy quiches, fries, and nice local wines. As we entered the lobby of the theater, we heard applause coming from the balcony and went to investigate. Two pairs of dancers were jitterbugging to lively swing music, egged on by the well-dressed crowd. We could tell we were in for a good time.
“The Schnitz”, as it is sometimes called, was built in 1928 and has been restored to its historic voluptuousness. Ceiling decoration, lighting, and painted iron railings all let you know you are in a special place. The performance included the entire Oregon Symphony, directed by Jeff Tyzik and, at certain points, the theater took on the feeling of a opulent lecture hall, with Mr. Tyzik explaining the finer points of jazz and swing and how they morphed into early rock and roll.
Mr. Tyzik and the Symphony were assisted by Julie Jo Hughes, a wonderful vocalist, and Dave Bennett, who plays clarinet and does vocals as well as a wicked Jerry Lee Lewis turn on the piano. Dancers Stephen Sayer, Chandrae Roettig, Hunter Krikac and Karine Hermes came on stage every now and then to stun us with gravity-defying moves and light footwork.
The first half of the program was dedicated to swing music, starting with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. There was also an original piece called “Harlem Street Scene”, written by director Tyzik. It had a swingy, jazzy dissonance that was easy on the ears but definitely not boring.
The second half was rock and roll, and not nearly as good as the swing portion. If it were not for Dave Bennett’s crazy acrobatics on the piano, the music selections would have felt disappointingly like a mother-daughter dance.
No, I take that back. A song that was not even listed on the program, Julie Jo Hughes singing Peggy Lee’s “Fever”and taking a turn dancing with Mr. Tyzik as he was conducting, was knock down gorgeous.
When the show was over, we crossed the street to catch the bus back home, along with some other music lovers and a violinist. Another lovely night in Portland!