In a rare appearance as a jazz pianist, Andre Previn brought down the curtain on a year of music dominated by the George Gershwin centennial celebration. Previn breezed through a dozen Gershwin tunes, displaying technical mastery, a beautifully controlled sense of dynamics and a buoyant swinging elegance.
Though the Gershwin repertoire was recorded in 1997 by Previn and bassist David Finck, the pianist made known that the selections were governed only by an agreed key and opening statement. From that point on, it was pure spontaneity and improvisational ideas, as all good jazz should be.
Previn followed his opener, “They All Laughed,” played at a break-neck tempo, with “Someone to Watch Over Me” offered as an intensely passionate unaccompanied solo. A funky blues foundation was laid down for “Lady be Good,” complemented by Finck’s crisp solo and some pulsating interplay.
The 69-year-old pianist enriched several Gershwin standards with a rich palette of colors and ardent delicacy. Such familiar ballads as “Soon,” “Isn’t It a Pity” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay” were decorously recalled, and “He Loves and She Loves” became a simply gorgeous exercise in romanticism.
Clearly a Renaissance musician, Previn has had an impressive year: his first opera, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” recently premiered in San Francisco and will be released next week on disc by Deutsche-Grammophon, and a Kennedy Center Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts was presented to him pianist last week in Washington.
One hopes next year’s Duke Ellington centennial will prompt another Previn live jazz turn, and to celebrate the 70th birthday of a consummate artist.