All That Jazz: September Song

The arrival of September reminds The Vienna Review jazz critic of the past summer's highlights and more autumn delights to come

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
…and the days dwindle down to a precious few…

With the Brecht-Weill Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny at the Vienna State Opera this month (22, 27, 30 Sept.), one can’t help but hear echoes of the September Song from Knickerbocker Holiday, one of the most memorable songs of the 1930s, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, now a jazz standard.

Music, like life, is about the continuum, the rise and fall and rise again. Generation and re-generation, the child is the father to the man. In the days of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives, his was pop music. Bing Crosby, the biggest-selling pop singer ever, succeeding Jolson, spawning Sinatra, taught jazz singers everything they need to know about microphones.

This season, summer jazz in Vienna was all these things, underscoring for local music lovers that this is the cycle we call life.

First, a consideration of Rufus Wainwright: Son of Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, singer-songwriters who began their careers in rock ‘n’ roll, matured into rock and much more, son Rufus ushered fans into his world for a night at the Staatsoper, flaunting his Tin Pan Alley to Mark Ronson-produced dance pop versatility, not to mention his musically aristocratic lineage. His set drew strongly from his latest LP, Out of the Game, which for those of us there, communicates a strong whiff of the patchouli-oiled Stockbridge to Laurel Canyon sound, referencing Elton John, Harry Nilsson, and (dare I make hushed notice of) Mark-Almond?

The tunes from Out of the Game included the very jazzy, after hours horns-and-strings of Jericho to the minimalism of Montauk. Rashida was a throwback to the doo-wop sound complete with girl group harmonies while Wainwright’s relationship with his partner Jorn Weisbrodt was the subject of his Song of You.

As a jazz fan, the highlight of the evening was a nod to his album-length recreation of Judy (Garland) at Carnegie Hall with the standard “The Man That Got Away”.

Almost by way of apology, Wainwright followed this with One Man Guy after explaining the sexual politics – including his spat with Liza Minelli – of his Garland homage.

Squaring the circle, Wainwright’s second and final encore was Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a wonderful yet ironic choice, given its anguished, lyrical content and Wainwright’s family ties, fathering little Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, with Cohen’s daughter Lorca Cohen.

John Hiatt remains relatively obscure, with a modest but dedicated fan base, including the several hundred who turned out to see him at the WUK. The concert, part of the Nova Jazz summer line-up, was staged in this converted 19th-century factory and a time-traveller’s delight, like a high school gymnasium 40 years ago; no chairs, everyone standing, pressed up against the stage.

A veteran singer-songwriter, Hiatt enjoyed success as early as 1987 with the release of his first big hit as a leader, Bring the Family. But with his “cured in rye” (but now dry) vocal burn, Hiatt has succeeded more as a songwiter. Bob Dylan covered Hiatt’s song The Usual, for the soundtrack to his film Hearts of Fire and his early Riding with the King was the hit single and album of the same name, featuring B.B. King and Eric Clapton just a few years ago. Success is an understatement when Dylan sings your songs!

A Rufus Wainwright, at this point in his career, may be vying for pop stardom, while John Hiatt channels the Delta slide guitar of Robert Johnson with a mandolin wind.

But both understand that great music, like life experiences, provide audience and artist a look into the kaleidoscope, with familiar and foreign shards of colours barely seen colliding into something new. To quote the man who invented it all, “Now we has jazz!”

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