“The Crosby, Stills & Nash Songbook” at JALC
Another successful fundraising collaboration for Wynton and orchestra
David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash jazzed up their look with dark gray Brooks Brothers suits for their appearance Friday with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis. “This is my first pair of grown-up shoes,” said Crosby, who at 71 still hasn’t shed his rocker’s mane or mustache. “If you laugh at our suits, you’re thrown out of here.”
The eternally youthful flower children rehearsed extensively at JALC to prepare for “The Crosby, Stills & Nash Songbook,” two concerts featuring 12 new arrangements of the trio’s classic songs by Marsalis and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (The May 1 show acted as JALC’s 2013 gala concert; Friday was open to the public. Both shows took place at JALC’s Rose Theater.) Though the high notes were more elusive than they might have been 45 years ago, the veteran folk-rock singers played with an exuberance that belied their age.
“This is sort of like three children being let loose at NASA,” Crosby said. “But boy is it fun.” Though undoubtedly a strange match-up, the folk-jazz crossover proved to be fertile ground for improvisation, and the arrangements took bold risks that never diluted the source material; the songbook resonated with a jazz audience. Despite CSN’s self-deprecating sense of humor, the program proceeded without any hiccups.
Marsalis has facilitated such genre experimentation before with Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and others, and Friday’s guests at JALC continued the tradition of finding jazz in unlikely places. “They embody the spirit of collaboration,” Marsalis said of CSN.
Aesthetics didn’t quite match politics, but the spirit of countercultural protest remained intact, as the night began with “Military Madness,” Nash’s timeless anti-war riposte, arranged by saxophonist Sherman Irby. The rollicking arrangement opened with a John Philip Sousa-style march and closed on a somber note with the trumpet section playing “Taps” in unison.
Stills simply ripped on drummer Ali Jackson’s blues-inflected arrangement of “Long Time Gone,” with Marsalis showing his rock bona fides. The program continued with “Helplessly Hoping,” which Stills described as a “little piece of hee-haw,” fleshed out by Victor Goines’ arrangement and soprano saxophone solo.
Ted Nash’s arrangement of “Critical Mass/Wind on the Water” channeled Ellington’s richly textured horn sonorities in an understated style that complemented CSN’s subtle harmonies before erupting into a dissonant crescendo. This led up to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” arranged by trombonist Vincent Gardner, which featured Stills’ consummate fingerpicking technique parried by Gardner’s raucous trombone solo and a series of funk vamps in the rhythm section.
This stood in stark contrast to a mostly a cappella rendering of “Guinnevere,” with Nash and Crosby (the latter on acoustic guitar) harmonizing opposite Marsalis at his soulful best on muted trumpet, conjuring Miles Davis’ cover on Circle in the Round.
“I think we’ll be able to do one more song before Brooks Brothers takes the suits back,” Crosby said after Marcus Printup’s ebullient arrangement of “Love the One You’re With.” As they began their closing number, a palpable wave of ’60s nostalgia swept over the theater and the audience sang along to “Teach Your Children.”