Nicola and I heard a concert by the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall on 2/2/18.
It was a program called “Heart and Soul” featuring, as I put it on Facebook, her next boyfriend James Monroe Iglehart and my old girlfriend Capathia Jenkins. Iglehart won a Tony playing the Genie in *Aladdin* on Broadway, he’s now playing Lafayette and Jefferson in *Hamilton.* Nicola saw him in *Aladdin* and went coo coo nutty for him. He’s an extraordinary performer and is totally her type. I saw Capathia Jenkins in *The Look of Love* back in 2003, followed by *Caroline, or Change* in 2004. Karen Miller and I saw her in a one-woman show about Hattie McDaniel off Broadway sometime around then. She has a powerhouse voice, she is something else.
The NY Pops brought in three killer backup singers, or, as they referred to them in the show, “supporting vocalists.” Hm! The conductor announced early on that the show was a great way to kick off Black History Month - - the two star singers were African-American, the three supporting vocalists were African-American, all of the songs were recorded by (and in many cases written by) African-Americans…but I didn’t see any African-Americans in the orchestra! I’ll give you another “Hm!” on that one.
Here’s the full program:
“September” and “Celebration” (orchestra)
“You’re All I Need to Get By” (JMI & CJ)
“Let’s Stay Together” (JMI)
“Midnight Train to Georgia (CJ)
“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (JMI)
“Love’s Theme” (orchestra)
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (JMI & CJ)
“Sir Duke” (JMI)
“I’m Every Woman” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (CJ)
“Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Touch Me In the Morning,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (orchestra)
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (JMI & CJ)
“Rock With You” (CJ)
“Ordinary People” (JMI)
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (orchestra)
“Unchain My Heart” (JMI)
“I Will Always Love You” (CJ)
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (JMI & CJ)
I love Iglehart and Jenkins and they both totally knocked it out of the park, but for me, one of the biggest surprises of the concert was the ginger-haired white guy playing clarinet way back in the orchestra. He was totally rockin’ out, when he was playing and when he was not playing. He was bopping his head around and giving us some deep shoulder action. He was a scream. The other woodwind players surrounding him didn’t seem to notice or care. Which is their choice.
Iglehart and Jenkins came out onstage. He was wearing a smart black suit, white shirt, and black necktie, she was wearing a lovely black lace cocktail dress. She is a luscious, curvy woman, and Nicola said, “She is wearing a good bra.”
A few highlights of the first half: Iglehart knew how to work the stage. He owned it. Jenkins gave us powerful vocals on “Midnight Train to Georgia,” though it was a little off-putting to hear two women and a man as the Pips. I got over it, but - - no, I’m changing my mind, I didn’t really get over it. I didn’t know the song “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” it was beautiful. The strings had a luminous, satiny sound, and the sax solo was supreme.
I thought “Love’s Theme” was a chance for the orchestra to show off and play something on their own, but when Iglehart and Jenkins came out for their next song, I realized that it was there so they could change their freaking clothes! He was now wearing a silver sharkskin jacket and striped tie, she was wearing a stunning raspberry sequined dress with cutouts on the shoulders. Oh Lord, she was WORKING that dress. She looked hot, and she knew it! She was not hiding her light under a bushel - - that little light of hers, she was letting it shine.
Iglehart turned up the heat with “Sir Duke.” I guess I never knew the correct title of that Stevie Wonder song, I always thought it was called “I Can Feel It All Over.” The audience started out clapping on every beat, but Iglehart quickly (and courteously, without any words) corrected that, by getting us to clap only on 2 and 4. Nicola and I had a conversation about that at intermission - - when you clap on every beat, it has no meaning. Bitch, please.
May I say a word about the orchestrations? They were a little lackluster. You’ve got a big orchestra, why not use it in a clever and meaningful way? When you have the brass at full cry and the drum set banging away, you can’t even hear the strings. Like at the end of “Celebration,” the “We’re gonna have a good time tonight / Let’s celebrate / It’s alright” section, why not do something clever and additive, start it with just a few instruments (but plenty of groove and rhythm) and add more instruments with each repeat?
Well I got my wish with “Touch Me In the Morning,” part of the Diana Ross medley that opened the second half. The start of the song was scored just for flute and harp - - it was delicate and lovely and gave such a nice break from hearing the full orchestra. But any points that the orchestrator got for that, he lost them with the last four bars of the medley. They were so overblown and gruesome, they were flown in directly from the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.
Here’s what Iglehart and Jenkins wore to start the second half: he was in a navy velvet jacket and black shirt (he was probably in the same black trousers all night, by the way) and she was in a green sparkly number.
I was hoping that “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” would be modeled after the Gladys Knight and the Pips version, rather than the original Marvin Gaye. Listen to them back to back, you’ll hear that the GK&P version has infinitely more attitude.
Without a doubt the high point of the concert was “Rock With You.” I LOVE THIS SONG. And the thing I love most about it is a subtle touch that Quincy Jones put in the chorus. He puts in claps on beat four during the chorus. “I’m gonna rock with you” - - CLAP. “All night” - - CLAP. I don’t think there are hand claps anywhere else in the song, and it’s absolute magic.
Richard and I were at a wedding this summer and the band was fantastic. They did this song but they did not do the handclaps. I was going to alert them to this egregious oversight during a break, but do I really need to be King of the Buttinskys, full time? So I had my antennae out at Carnegie Hall, so see if the New York Pops would do the hand claps. And there were the members of the brass section, clapping on beat four - - with their HANDS over their HEADS. I know I’m a total pushover, but this reduced me to tears. I really need to seek professional help.
“Ordinary People” was the most recent song on the program, it’s a John Legend song from 2006. The arrangement had an interesting texture, piano and solo cello later joined by the strings.
The orchestra was HOT in the James Brown numbers, and Iglehart came out and did some awesome Brownian dance moves, brought the house down. He is shameless, and I love it!
Jenkins came out for “I Will Always Love You” in a short-sleeved gown with silver sequins, to the FLOOR. To the FLOOR, I’m saying! Oh Lordy that was a GOWN. She started the song a cappella and you could have heard a pin drop. Her singing was intense, unbridled, and deeply felt. She’s an extraordinary singer, I need to seek her out more often.
Nicola pointed out a young couple in the far left corner of the balcony, slow dancing to “I Will Always Love You!” Hilarious! They got in about two minutes before they were busted by an usher. Aw, nice try.
The encore was “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” A fantastic evening all around!