After a steady diet of highbrow music lately from the Charleston Symphony, I welcomed my first McCrady’s Pops Series event at the Gaillard Saturday evening as a nice change of pace.
But the event, starring the fabled Dukes of Dixieland, turned out to be just as “classical” as any other concert I’ve heard from the CSO. After all, it’s often said that America’s unique brand of classical music is actually our native blues and jazz. New Orleans-style Dixieland is well-nigh as elemental as jazz gets, and nobody blows that brand of roots music better than the Dukes.
They’ve been around a long time, and they keep finding fabulous fresh musicians as the old hands bow out over the years. The current crew is a cross-generational bunch: Seasoned but still-swingin’ drummer (and leader) Richard Taylor could well be mistaken for brilliant young pianist Scott Obenschain’s dad. In between are rock-steady bass-player Everett Link, clarinet-meister Earl Bonie, trumpet wizard Mike Fulton, and slick slide-trombone man (and vocalist) Ben Smith.
Things got going with a jaunty orchestral pastiche from Stephen Flaherty’s Ragtime — a bustling bundle of early 20th-century pop tunes, very nicely done by conductor Scott Terrell and company.
Then, enter the Dukes — for some sweet numbers with symphonic backup in artful arrangements that made them all sound more like a virtuoso big band than anything else. The orchestra and combo had lots of fun tossing toe-tapping themes back and forth in a tribute to ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin and a lush number called “Midnight in Moscow.”
Then the CSO got a break as our six main men did their happy thing for awhile — before finishing up with Dukes’ Americana Medley: favorite patriotic songs with a Big Easy flavor. Even though the orchestra tended to overwhelm their guests here and there, it all added up to pure pleasure.
Terrell and his colleagues came back after halftime with excerpts from John Kander’s Chicago — it was the Little Rascals all over again. Then the Dukes re-emerged, and the musical treats — both with and without band backup — just kept piling up. “Swing That Music” and “Sleepy Time Down South” — a pair of bluesy Louis Armstrong tunes — recalled the deathless influence of Satchmo. Everybody got back into the act for “New Orleans Medley,” the rip-snortin’ grand finale. The delighted crowd demanded an encore — what else but “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”?
Too bad the substantial crowd was mostly gray-headed — younger listeners, too, would’ve thrilled to this infectious, joyful music. It might’ve even convinced them that Grandma and Grandpa knew how to jump and jive to cool sounds after all.