BQE puts music to ‘Blue Angel’; JazzFest begins; Concert watch
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass, August 16, 2001) --

‘The Blue Angel’ flies again

Usually when contemporary ensembles compose music for old films, they attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible, enhancing the emotional experience of the film while steering clear of the foreground. The ideal soundtrack, ironically, is one that the viewer never notices.

The BQE Project is one of the best of those groups that regularly composes new scores for old films and performs them live. The eight-piece chamber ensemble of classical musicians accompanied Charlie Chaplin’s classic silent film, “The Gold Rush,” in the very first film of Mass MoCA’s original Courtyard Series back in 1999. The group returns to MoCA (662-2111) as part of this year’s Screenplay Series on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 8:30 p.m. to perform its new score for “The Blue Angel,” the Joseph Von Sternberg-directed 1931 film that launched Marlene Dietrich to international stardom.

Working with “The Blue Angel” posed new challenges to co-composers John Florio and Tom Nazziola. The film, a dark masterpiece of German Expressionism, is neither a comedy nor a silent – in fact it was one of the very first “talkies” – and so the musicians need to support and not get in the way of the dialogue as well as underline the darkness of the emotions.

“The overriding challenge was weaving our new score with the dialogue and with the source music found in the original film,” said Nazziola in an Email interview. “The new score complements the film; it also adds a layer of additional orchestration on top of some existing musical moments.”

The most notable instance of this “layering” is when Marlene Dietrich, who plays a cabaret singer in the film, sings the memorable hit song, “Falling in Love Again.”

“We’ve written this section to become part of the film and to give the effect that Dietrich is performing hand-in-hand with a live orchestra,” said Nazziola. “This approach also presents additional performance challenges -- our music needs to match the film exactly; the margin for error is virtually non-existent.”

In addition to composing for old films, Nazziola and Florio write for TV and film. But Nazziola says vintage films are tailor-made for BQE’s musical sensibility.

“These films are cinematic classics, yet remain undiscovered—and we’d like to believe that new music scores help make them more accessible to today’s younger audiences,” said Nazziola. “Silent films, of course, are the ultimate, because they’re blank canvases. They lack dialogue, sound effects and foley work -- and allow the musical score to take front seat.”

A head start on jazz

While the main event of the first annual Berkshire Jazz Festival doesn’t take place until next weekend -- when performances will occur on three stages from noon to 8 on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26, at Butternut Basin in Great Barrington -- the festival has a series of special events scheduled for early next week which jazz lovers won’t want to miss.

The official festival kickoff takes place on Tuesday, August 21, with a gala cocktail party with live jazz – what else? -- at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge at 6. This is a ticketed event; for information call the festival hotline at 914-631-1000.

The next day, the festival moves up to North Adams, where it joins forces with Mass MoCA to present “Jazz for Kids” at 4, featuring Mark Morganelli and the Jazz Forum All-Stars plus special guest Charlie Tokarz – the North Adams-based saxophonist who is the Berkshires’ answer to Rahsaan Roland Kirk – followed by a jam session at 6. Both events are free and take place in front of the Mohawk Theater.

Next Thursday, August 23, the festival stops in at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield for an educational program called “Jazz History – A Century of Jazz,” at 11 a.m. Tickets are free with the price of admission to the museum.

Then on Friday, August 24, nightclubs throughout the Berkshires will get into the act. John Sauer, Bob Nieske and Randy Kaye will join forces at the Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, while the Richie Hart Trio will be at the Egremont Inn in Egremont. John Suters will lead a quartet at the Union Bar and Grill, pianist Lee Shaw will perform with her trio at Castle Street Café, and Club D’Elf – which occasionally includes keyboardist John Medeski, who was just in town last weekend with his band, The Word, performing at BerkFest -- brings its improvisational, experimental jazz to Club Helsinki in Great Barrington. Call the individual venues for ticket information.

Concert watch

North Carolina native Toni Lynn Washington has called Boston home for several decades, but if her most recent album, “Good Things,” is any indication, Southern soul still flows through her veins. The album is full of the sort of classic soul, r&b and blues of the sort Gladys Knight, Irma Thomas and Ruth Brown used to perform, from ballads to burners to rockers. It’s the sound of Memphis and New Orleans, but this favorite of the crowd at Club Helsinki (528-3394) returns to the Great Barrington nightspot on Friday, August 17, at 9.

Washington first made it big in the 1960s when she was discovered in New Orleans and began opening shows for the likes of Jackie Wilson and Sam and Dave. A decade later found her entertaining the troops in Vietnam, before she hooked up with a few singers from Ray Charles’s Raelettes to form Sister Love. Over the last decade she’s been making a Boston-based comeback, and she has garnered several nominations at the W.C. Handy Blues Awards and from NAIRD. Her love for gospel and jazz can be heard on numbers like the Chuck Willis classic “Oh What a Dream” and “We Don’t See Eye to Eye.”

Every year around this time Tor Krautter, leader of the Reverend Tor Band, gathers together a bunch of musician-friends and produces the Rainforest Jam, a concert to benefit the Brazilian rain forest as well as to pay tribute to the memory of the late Jerry Garcia, founder and leader of the Grateful Dead, who was vocal in his support of preserving the world’s rain forests. This year that tribute will be even more apropos with several musicians on hand who were closely associated with Garcia, including keyboardist Tom Constanten, who played with the Grateful Dead, and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage, a member of the Dead offshoot band New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Also on hand to help out the jam, being billed as “Reverend Tor and the All Star Freaky Friends,” will be keyboardist Mark Mercier of Max Creek, New England’s longstanding answer to the Grateful Dead, and Flipper Dave guitarist Brett Connors. The Reverend Tor Band will also perform, as will Flipper Dave and Dark Hollow. There will also be a childrens performance by Spaghetti Cake at 2. The event takes place on Saturday, August 18, at Bucksteep Manor in the town of Washington. Gates open at 1 and bands begin performing at 3. Tickets are only $10 and children 12 and under are free with an adult. According to Krautter, all proceeds from “Rainforest Jam 2001” will be donated to the Nature Conservancy’s “Adopt An Acre” program; every $35 raised will buy and protect an acre of rainforest in the Pantanal region of Brazil. For more information call 518-733-6915.

Berkshire singer-songwriter Bobby Sweet, fresh off the release of his great new CD, Already Home, kicks off the weekend of music at the Guthrie Center (528-1955) in Great Barrington on Friday night. On Saturday, Woodstock-based singer-songwriter Tom Pacheco makes his Guthrie Center debut. Pacheco recently returned to Woodstock after spending a decade in Ireland and Scandinavia, where like his late friend and fellow Woodstock musician Rick Danko he found great support among the natives.

The conventional definition of “philharmonic” is that of a symphony orchestra. The trio by the name of the Housatonic Philharmonic might stretch that definition a bit, but the effect of their music, as heard on their CD of traditional rural American folk music, Timeless Tunes, could certainly be called symphonic. Instrumentalists Paul Rice (fiddle, guitar), Tim Gray (piano, pennywhistle, hammered dulcimer) and Andy Gordon (banjo, spoons) whip up a frenzy on a series of jigs, reels and hoe-downs and paint lyrical portraits on several ballads and lullabies. Catch Housatonic Philharmonic at Dream Away Lodge (623-8725) in Becket tonight. Enigmatic singer-songwriter Celia is at Dream Away on Friday night, and Bobby Sweet entertains on Saturday night.

The list of performers pianist John Hicks has accompanied reads like a who’s who of modern jazz, ranging from Betty Carter to Woddy Herman, Art Blakey, Oliver Lake, Lester Bowie, Charles Tolliver, Chico Freeman, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Hamiet Bluiett, Kenny Barron and Pharaoh Sanders. The St. Louis native moved to New York more than three decades ago at the urging of Clark Terry and Miles Davis, and since then he has carved out a niche as an accompanist, bandleader and composer in his own right. Hicks appears at Searles Castle on Saturday night at 7:30 in the so-called Rave Review concert series (243-1517). He will be performing with Elise Wood on flute and Curtis Lundy on bass.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 16, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]

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