The winter temperature was about the same as it was in 1938, but the ticket price at Carnegie Hall has soared from $2.75 for a box seat to a top of $119. The occasion marked the 70th anniversary of the historic concert that marked a turning point for the big band industry with the appearance of Benny Goodman and his Swing Orchestra. Canadian band leader Bob DeAngelis fronted a 40-member-plus “pops” orchestra, made up mostly of Gotham musicians, that did little to re-create the punch and drive of a long-gone era.
As Goodman did 70 years ago, the band kicked off with “Don’t Be That Way,” but in a rather tense and mannered performance. Frontman DeAngelis is a formidable clarinetist, and while his tempered playing lacked bite, he eased himself through such period classics as “Moonglow,” “Goodbye” and a plaintive “Memories of You” with breezy confidence. The big string section often cushioned the concert’s jazz thrust.
The evening’s best moments were found in the re-creation of the legendary Goodman small groups. Tunes such as “Runnin’ Wild” and “Lazy River” revealed a pointed intimacy with the tasteful added thrust of Frank Wright’s vibes. Wright does not display the aggressive slap and punctuation that marked the style of Lionel Hampton, yet his clean approach and inventive lines were a distinct pleasure.
Most disturbing was the presence of the Swing Dance Divas, a trio of young ladies garbed in red, white and blue who performed a sophomoric dance routine while the band was churning out the triumphant Goodman showpiece “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing).” That the girls were the DeAngelis daughters mattered little. Their efforts were a distraction from the concert’s focus and prompted a considerable number of walkouts at intermission.
Vocal duties were entrusted to Melissa Stylianou, a comely thrush who recalled the kind of straightforward approach once the terrain of Martha Tilton and Peggy Lee.