Reviews of "Porgy and Bess"

Noble Lee Andrew Davison served both spirituals and Gershwin on a silver tray

Last year the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra gave new life to its visual image. They have a new mascot – little dog Lumír, who now invites us to “classical music for everybody”. Lumír evidently does not discriminate against good jazz, either, which he proved by making his orchestra perform the concert adaptation of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, whose incontestable star became American singer Lee Andrew Davison.

Although singer Lee Andrew Davison originally comes from Oklahoma, U.S.A., he has lived in Prague since 1991. He sings with many jazz bands and musicians but, unfortunately, the wider audience hardly knows him. Therefore, his charisma, nobleness and absolute professionalism, with which in the first half of the program he interpreted black people’s traditional religious songs from the beginning of the 20th century, came as a big surprise. In the second part he sang the male role of the jazz adaptation of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, written in the fifties by Russell Garcia for Ella Fitzgerald and Louise Armstrong.
The arrangement of spirituals is the work of the well-known bass player and composer Vít Fiala, who together with pianist Radim Linhart and drummer Jan Linhart created a jazz group. They played with Davison in perfect accord and mutual understanding. Brno ‘s audience was greatly satisfied with their performances, of which I can mention Lee’s excellent vocal presentation, especially in Were You there When they Crucified My Lord, or Lord, I Want to Be a Christian in My Heart, and the piano solos of Radim Linhart. My only reproach is directed toward the audience, who, used to classical music, applauded Linhart’s solos only very reluctantly.
Davison was incredibly authentic particularly in interpreting songs containing spiritual messages. In his childhood he witnessed hard racial segregation in the southern states of the U.S. He actually grew up with spirituals and gospels as part of everyday life, and so he well understands the desire for a better life expressed in the melodies and words of the songs. Black American folklore from around the Mississippi delta did not create only spirituals, but also blues, jazz and gospel, i.e. genres, on which almost the entire contemporary popular music is based. That’s why even if you don’t know all the songs, the tunes and rhythms sound kind of familiar. And no wonder; these are the corner stones, on which the popular music has been built and has stood since the seventies, if not even earlier.
In his set Davison included also positively charged songs with lively rhythm, such as Down by the Riverside, Oh, When the Saints, or Give Me that Old Time Religion, all well-known to Czech people. His speech given in his funny incorrect Czech was received with huge applause. In it Davison expressed his appreciation of the opportunity to offer the local audience music closest to his heart and gratefulness for receiving such good response.
The selected parts of Porgy and Bess did not take up the whole evening; they came later, after the spirituals, as an independent program. Lee Andrew Davison changed his jacket and brought with him to the stage a young jazz diva, Barbora Řeháčková-Mindrina. The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jakub Klecker, and a solo trumpet player Václav Týfa joined in to play the first number It Ain’t Necessarily So. Apart from other charms, Barbora boasted flawless performance, both in duets with Davison (I Got Plenty O’Nuttin’, Summertime) and in her solos (I Want to Stay Here, My Man’s Gone Now). So step by step, both singers told the love story of a legless beggar Porgy and a girl named Bess, which took place in the twenties of the past century in South Carolina.

The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra production of Porgy and Bess orchestrated by Vít Fiala (specifically for this night) demonstrated Gershwin’s opera as a flexible and vital work. The tunes sound still fresh even seventy years after the first staging. Russell Garcia’s arrangement can be moved around like building blocks; music numbers can be left out or added without losing a thing.

The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s courageous innovative program series “The Untraditional Abonnement” (Subscription) presented this adaptation of Porgy and Bess in the Moravian metropolis for the first time. It is a shame that despite its success and the fact that the tickets were sold out well beforehand, this project had only two runs. What is very important, though, Lee Andrew Davison’s performance demonstrated that there is more than one single carp in the Czech pond of good male jazz voices., Petr Obrovský
2. 3. 2010

Porgy and Bess in Brno

An innovative series of Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s subscription concerts offered, this year, a concert adaptation of Gershwin’s jazz opera Porgy and Bess. I couldn’t miss such a rare opportunity, of course. The first half of the program created the right atmosphere. Accompanied by his jazz trio, Lee Andrew Davison sang several well-known gospels and spirituals. Although his speech, given in Czech, reminded the audience of the popular character Mireček from the film How Poets Lose their Illusions, they must have taken their hats off to his performance as a singer; for which not even Ray Charles would be ashamed. Davison obviously enjoyed himself; his song sprang right from his heart, just as it should be in case of gospels, he caressed the melody almost like Bobby McFerrin, in one word - super! I felt like jumping up from my chair and screaming “Thanks, my Lord!” and “Jesus loves me!”, as I have seen the black people do in their churches – only in movies, unfortunately.

After the intermission the philharmonic orchestra’s musicians appeared on the stage, with the jazz trio in the middle of them. At the microphone Barbora Řeháčková-Mindrina got going, a singer with a beautiful, full voice (and full lungs) and wonderful jazz feeling. She took turns with Davison; you couldn’t tell which song was better. If there were a CD available, I would go right now and buy it. Even the entire orchestra visibly enjoyed playing jazz (not as it used to be before), so I really have nothing negative to say. On the whole, it was one of the best cultural events I have attended in Brno. If I could give points, I would give a full ten.
27. 2. 2010