Doc Severinsen February 25, 2007
Doc Defies Father Time
By Glen Creason
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon, blustery outside and most certainly nap weather for the Baby Boomer-plus crowd that gathered at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts for a matinee of an idol of yesteryear. Yet, when Doc Severinsen showed up on stage in Pink Blazer festooned with copious rhinestones over a hot pink shirt and rich violet slacks while sporting black and white two-toned shoes it opened the eyes of the assembled a bit wider. When he intoned, “I’m out to have about as much fun as I can without going to jail” they sat up more upright. When he touched his talented lips to trumpet and the fifteen person Severinsen Big Band blasted off all were fully awake and swinging like a drunken zoo. This is not a show you could snooze during unless you jitterbug in your sleep. Doc Severinsen has chiseled this mixture of old vets and young Turks from the Mancini Institute into a genuine-first-rate Big Band capable of hitting all the right notes and stirring the blood to a steady boil. The thirty-year leader of the superb Tonight Show band is heading toward the big 8-0 and this is his farewell tour but he’s going out like a fully toothed lion. You have to appreciate the superb arranging skills of the man when you hear just how crisp the sound of this group was throughout the demanding and varied musical choices. There wasn’t close to a dud on the program.
No sense fooling around with appetizers at such an historic occasion and the great band got to sink their teeth into some of the classics of Big Band music. Duke, Dizzy, Count Basie and Satchmo were given their due in a program mixing one-hundred proof swinging tunes and velvet soft ballads beautifully done. The talented vocalist Carmen Bradford took on the difficult task of singing in front of this high-octane band sweetening “Singing in the Rain,” an Ella-esque “When You’re Smiling,” “No Easy Way to Say Goodbye,” and the bluesy duo of “Everyday I Have the Blues,” plus “Smack Dab in the Middle.” From the opening blast of Doc’s horn in “Flying Home” to the ending triumvirate-triumph of “One O’clock Jump/ “Two O’clock Jump”/ “Twelve O’clock Jump” the fine band kept the current flowing at high voltage. Truly outstanding were pianist Biff Hannon, saxophonist Ernie Watts, trombonist Mike Daigeau and the twelve-person horn section that caressed when necessary and swung most mightily throughout. The best moments were when the entire orchestra took it to the top as in “West End Blues,” “King Porter Stomp,” a truly wonderful “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” and “Flying Home.” Show highlights were certainly the wild and wooly interplay between Watts and youngster Brandon Wright on “Sax Epic” and the two Doc Severinsen showcases in “What’s New” and the powerful trumpet of “West End Blues” proving the ageless wonder wasn’t yet ready for the rocking chair on this day. When he came out for the second half in a mustard colored jacket, burgundy shirt and salmon trousers you knew the proceedings would be delicious. Retirement awaits but Doc left some nice memories behind in Cerritos.