Sadly, due to illness, we must cancel Sunday's Great American Songbook Concert with Jessica Ann Best. We're working to find an alternate date and will keep you informed as plans develop.
THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK
Jessica Ann Best and friends.
The Great American Songbook
JESSICA ANN BEST
The Magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein
The Sound of Music/Title Song + My Favorite Things
Cinderella: In My Own Little Corner/Impossible
The King and I: I Whistle a Happy Tune/Hello, Young Lovers
South Pacific: I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy
Looking to the Rainbow
Finian’s Rainbow meets Arlen
How Are Things in Glocca Morra/Look to the Rainbow
Over the Rainbow
The Wisdom of Sondheim
Anyone Can Whistle (Anyone Can Whistle)
Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music)
Children Will Listen (Into the Woods)
Lessons from Lerner and Loewe
I Could Have Danced Night (My Fair Lady)
The Simple Joys of Maidenhood (Camelot)
Show Me (My Fair Lady)
So I Love, Cole Porter (Kiss Me Kate)
I’ve Never Been in Love Before, F. Loesser (Guys and Dolls)
My Funny Valentine, Rodgers and Hart, (Babes In Arms)
They Say it’s Wonderful, Irving Berlin, (Annie Get Your Gun)
A Moment on Broadway
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Burton Lane
Who Are You Now/People, (Funny Girl, Jule Styne)
Til There Was You, (The Music Man, Meredith Wilson)
Spring Can Really Hang You up The Most
All the Things You Are
Our Love is Here to Stay
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Great American Songbook
I’ve been singing The Great American Songbook my entire life. It is the music that my grandparents sang to me; the music I grew up watching on TV and listening to the radio, and the music in which I became a musician.
The Great American Songbook is vast in musical sound and varies from genre to genre. It reaches back a hundred years or more in theater; while also turning the corner from the beginnings of jazz. It soars all the way through the Golden Age of musicals to our more modern masters like Sondheim. Some have hints of opera and operetta; some the greatest jazz cats of the day. It is a part of our American experience; a combination of all our expressions. From movies to television, stage to the concert hall-this music embodies our human experience. It is the music that tells the stories of our lives. It encompasses every feeling; from heart wrenching ballads to the rip-roaring texts that share our frustrations, our joy, and everything in between.
Anyone can find themselves in these songs. They are personal and often first person narratives. A broken hearted lover expresses their deepest pain; while a newbie to love expresses their inexperience. Both share their vulnerability. Some sound like waltzes and some embody and express difficult chromaticism. From jazz to theater, concert to cinema; we love them all. They spoke to our nation’s moments. They share our journey through history: in war and peace time; in prosperity and complexity. They make us question and they bring us hope.
So, I invite you to relax and find yourself in these moments. Perhaps you will travel through time with us. Hopefully, you will journey within your own heart as you too experience the great storytelling and unique experience that is our Great American Songbook.
America has inspired creative endeavors and ideas from jazz to Southern fried chicken, from telephones to iPhones, from moonshine and Manhattans to blue jeans. And let us not forget the idea and reality of national parks for the benefit of all.
Generations of Americans have also brought new energy and innovation to music, from Broadway to Hollywood, from jazz clubs to big band dance halls, from hoe-down shindigs to symphonic wonders. And, without equal, to the idea of a set of “standard” songs representing the best this country has to offer. Not just songs wrapped in flag-waving patriotism, but a “Great American Songbook” that tells, not so much about love of country, but about living life in this country, filled with tales of love and laughter, heartache and headache. Of America’s rise in the 20th century as an emblem of freedom to be . . . whoever you are.
The Great American Songbook represents a core suite of songs — from stage, screen, dance club, and jazz hall — that was the accompanying soundtrack for this country in the first half of the 20th century, across two world wars to the edge of the Space Age. Breathed into existence by legendary composers and lyricists, singers and musicians, these timeless classics still touch our hearts. Artists such as the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Duke Ellington, Yip Harburg, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Mercer have lit up countless nights of romance and revelry, friendship and understanding.
Each of these songs comes to life in melody and words, graced with beauty and poignancy — of optimistic exuberance or rounded off to melancholic loss and yearning. Whether created for the Broadway stage, the silver screen, or in the creative cauldron of Harlem’s Cotton Club, these songs comment directly on life’s universal moments: of living, loving, laughing, lusting, lingering, and lamenting. Our shared experiences with all their cadence and careening, boiled down to one song after another to capture our hearts, our feelings, our humanity anew.
If a nation kept a diary, it would be in its songs. Song is where poetry meets praxis, where the imagination hits the dance floor and the ineffable finds expression in the everyday. Verse envelops life’s detail to offer both prosaic insight and poetic pleasures; yet, in song, music expands the emotional richness of lyrical syntax, transforming words into dreams, disappointments into wisdom. Cast in the delight of melody, harmony, and rhythm, song thrives even without specific meaning. In lyrical enigma resides possibility, whether in Schubert’s Lieder or on Top 40 radio, song’s ambiguities invite association to make the popular deeply personal. Some becomes “our song,” as music collides with living. These human riches of song may well transcend time and place, yet song is equally historic, preserving ideas and events that forged a path to the present.
In the United States, entries in the Great American Diary of Song include ballads by a signer of the Declaration of Independence—Francis Hopkinson—and spirituals that tell of the strengths, sufferings, and hope of African American slaves. The legendary songwriters of Tin Pan Alley, of Broadway, of Hollywood strove for hits to catalyze immediate commercial success, yet surprisingly often they created classics that captured the concerns, optimism, and challenges of the times. Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1929), Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (1932) and “Over the Rainbow” (1939) by Harold Arlen and Harburg explore fundamental human themes while they articulate a time of traumatic change from exuberance to Great Depression and its aftermath in American history.
The Gershwin brothers had a particular knack for catching the spirit of the age and for all time. Their many love songs, such as the unknown gem “Ask Me Again” (rediscovered by Michael Feinstein and finally introduced to the public in a 1990 production of Oh Kay!), offer more than tales of heart meets heart, they tell of the everyday as universal—here in the nervous and joyous first blush of infatuation and the dreamy ideals of romance. “Fascinating Rhythm,” in contrast, merges the energy and optimism of the Twenties with its explosive cultural tension that marks jazz as the signal success of Harlem’s artistic renaissance and its quest for Civil Rights. Or maybe it’s the iconic lullaby “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, arguably the most frequently recorded song in audio history. The Gershwins’ creative strength is on vivid display in each rendition; their songs grow ever richer through the artistry of countless performers and performances. Their work in context, offers a broad accompanying transformation of American life, from the Victorian Age through the Jazz Age up through today.
An encyclopedia never to be finished, the Great American Songbook has much to say about the past as well as the present. Song does more than entertain, it celebrates, it informs, it heightens the moment as it encodes ideology for analysis. Most importantly, song gives history a heart. Whether given voice in the interpretations of the art’s great singers, or by a raucous chorus of kids in the family car, song recruits the beauty of the ages as a tool for understanding, here and now.
– program note by Eric Selle
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Jessica Ann Best, mezzo-soprano
Jessica Ann Best is a striking cross-disciplinary artist, performing nationwide in opera, musical theater, and jazz. Ms. Best premiered the roles of Mrs. Otis in Gordon Getty’s The Canterville Ghost with LA Opera, The Stepmother in Anton Coppola’s, Lady Swanwhite at Opera Tampa, and Alice in Alice Ryley, by Michael Ching, with the Savannah Voice Festival.
Ms. Best made her debut as Carmen in Carmen with Salt Marsh Opera in 2021. Ms. Best tours The Great American Songbook and is a returning artist with Susie Mosher in The Lineup at the Birdland. Best has appeared as a guest artist with The Buffalo Philharmonic, The New Jersey Festival Orchestra, The Florida Orchestra, The Santa Fe Opera, and The Savannah Music Festival. Ms. Best appears in the roles of Bessie and Mary Rivers in Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre on Naxos.
Ms. Best is a professor and the Artistic Director of the Nazareth College Opera. Best holds a Masters of Music in Vocal Performance from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Nazareth College.
Matthew Marco, piano
Matthew Marco is a conductor, coach, and collaborative pianist, currently serving as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, University at Buffalo. He has held conducting and coaching positions with Nickel City Opera, Buffalo Opera Unlimited, the Orchard Park Symphony Orchestra, the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, the Hillman Opera Company, and Opera-Lytes. Mr. Marco has also performed with Amarillo Opera (TX), Civic Morning Musicals (Syracuse, NY), Opera Tampa (FL), the Savannah VOICE Festival (GA), and the National Choral Festival (Carnegie Hall, NY). He enjoys regular performances with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Master Chorale, and Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus, as well as engagements with the Buffalo Chamber Players, Friends of Vienna, and Western New York Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Marco studied piano with Anne Kissel and François Germain, and conducting with Paul Ferington and Brian Doyle.