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Arts & Culture
Owen McNally writes about jazz and other music events in Connecticut's Jazz Corridor, stretching from the tip of Fairfield County, right through New Haven and Hartford, and on up beyond the state into the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Keep up with the best our area has to offer in music.

Celebrated Doctor and Top-Tier Tuba Player Leads His Hot Jazz Band at Barrington Stage Company

Eric Antoniou
Eli and the Hot Six with vocalist Rebecca Sullivan.


Newberger is putting aside his stethoscope for the evening to wrap himself up in his beloved tuba and his passion for traditional jazz.

Dr. Eli Newberger, a renowned pediatrician and celebrated tuba virtuoso and keyboardist, has a new, bouncing baby to care for thanks to the recent birth of his all-star trad jazz band called Eli and the Hot Six.

Newberger, a New England maestro of music and medicine, proudly presents his band, along with its special guest, vocalist Rebecca Sullivan, on Monday, June 22, at 8:00 pm at The Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


The celebrity doctor, who’s affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston, has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “60 Minutes,” speaking in his expert capacity as a groundbreaking pioneer in identifying and treating child abuse and family violence.


Putting aside his stethoscope for the evening to wrap himself up in his beloved tuba and his passion for traditional jazz, Newberger leads his band of colleagues in a concert called Swingin’ Gershwin with Eli and the Hot Six + Rebecca Sullivan. If the jazz doctor and his all-stars appear to be in an extra upbeat mood as they step onto the Stage Company’s main stage, it’s because they’re celebrating their debut disc called Eli and the Hot Six Live (Contemporary Classic Jazz), recorded live at the Sherborn Inn, Sherborn, Massachusetts.

Newberger’s prescription for his band’s debut disc prescribes large doses of invigorating swing and replenishing spontaneity as the basic elixir, mixed with the traditional, still miracle-producing panacea of just plain letting the good times roll.


Besides Rebecca Sullivan, a rising young jazz singer, and Newberger’s top-tier tuba artistry, the doctor’s hand-picked all-stars are: Bob Winter, pianist with the Boston Pops and Pops Esplanade Orchestra; Ted Casher, a multi-reed master and amusingly rough-hewn vocalist who has played with everyone from jazz icon Louis Armstrong to Peter Duchin’s famously sophisticated society orchestra; and trumpeter Bo Winiker, who has performed at the White House and toured worldwide with the New England Conservatory’s award-winning Ragtime Ensemble, directed by the noted American composer and musical savant, Gunther Schuller.


Also on staff for the doctor’s tight-knit jazz crew are: Jimmy Mazzy, a banjo virtuoso and warmly expressive vocalist; Herb Gardner, a top trombonist who has toured with such luminaries as Wild Bill Davison and Kenny Davern; and drummer Jeff Guthery, a youngster among the seasoned veterans who has performed bebop and traditional jazz for years in Kyrgyzstan and South Korea. On the live recording session, cornetist Randy Reinhart makes a randy special guest appearance on the band’s roaring rendition of the trad jazz classic, “Tiger Rag.”


Credit Eli Newberger
Eli Newberger, pediatrician, tuba player and keyboardist.

Classically trained at Juilliard and Yale, Newberger has a distinguished musical curriculum vitae to go along with his medical degree, which he earned at Yale Medical School, and his warehouse full of plaudits for his multiple accomplishments as a physician, author, clinician, lecturer and consultant.


On the musical side of his incredible dual career path, Newberger, who also plays jazz piano and keyboards, has appeared on 40 recordings and is a co-founder of and original pianist for the famed New Black Eagle Jazz Band.  A longtime New England favorite, the band, which has been soaring since the early ‘70s, is internationally celebrated for its mastery of New Orleans jazz, gospel and blues.


Among the  new CD’s highlights are Winter’s rollicking piano contributions, including his unaccompanied, 24-karat reproduction of  the ancient Tin Pan Alley hit, “Oh By Jingo,” sealed with a  dramatic invocation of Fats Waller’s keyboard fireworks. A pianist for all seasons, Winter later outdoes himself, sailing even beyond his wondrously Wallering ways as he digs deep into “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” His thickly textured, orchestral-sounding  solo swings hard in the rocking manner of Dave McKenna or Joe Sullivan, before gliding into serene, sylvan passages recalling Erroll Garner’s pastoral Impressionism.


Mazzy, the Andres Segovia and Freddie Green of the banjo, does some fancy pickin’ and New Orleans inspired vocals on “St. James Infirmary” -- a mournful plaint with funereal  horns wailing behind him—and triumphs once again on a tour through “Chinatown, My Chinatown.”


In his own distinctive way, Ted Casher on tenor saxophone plays “Body and Soul” in the classic Coleman Hawkins manner, using gruff tones and  surprising intervals to paint his own dramatically lush portrait of the venerable ballad. Casher adds variety to the session’s already spicy mix with his sometimes klezmer-inflected clarinet, as well as with his humorous, Borscht Belt rendition of the Andrews Sisters’ World War II mega-hit, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.” Although free of accompanying surreal sounds of gunshots, cowbells, whistles and kitchen utensils, Casher’s comic crooning is reminiscent of song spoofs unleashed in the 1940s and '50s by the irreverent bandleader/satirist, Spike Jones and his City Slickers.


Although Rebecca Sullivan had never rehearsed with the band before the live recording was made, she fits right in riffing with the veteran horn players, soloing and scatting and always willing to take risks even if they don’t lead to absolute perfection. In traditional jazz, of course, emotion trumps perfection.

Going far above and beyond the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, Newberger does great good with his agile tuba, which functions as a rock-steady, double bass-like timekeeper, as well as with his infrequent but fluent, succinct solo lines that are never less than seamless and surgically correct.


Following their doctor/leader’s advice, the band members play with esprit de corps and gusto as they honor the New Orleans tradition of ensemble improvising. At the same time, they’re also delighted to step forward with solo flights to fully express their own individual styles as they make something new out of something old.


As a student at Yale College, where he was a scholar of the house in music theory, and later at Yale Medical School, Newberger established deep ties with New Haven, even performing for years with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and gigging on jazz piano and tuba in the Elm City area.


At Boston Children’s Hospital, the doctor founded and directed the Child Protection and Family Development Programs for three decades, and wrote an acclaimed book on strengthening boys’ character, titled “The Men They Will Become,” published by Da Capo Press. In line with his dual professional passions of medicine and jazz, the book’s publication was accompanied by the release of a companion jazz CD sharing the same title and featuring songs illustrating complementary themes. His colleagues on the CD were his good buddies and fellow trad jazz practitioners, pianist/clarinetist Butch Thompson and Jimmy Mazzy.


In an all-in-the-family note, Eli and The Hot Six Live is elegantly illustrated with  striking images of the band members sketched by Newberger’s wife, Carolyn Newberger -- an award-winning artist, noted child psychologist and classically trained flutist. A researcher and teacher at Harvard Medical School, she is known for her groundbreaking theory of parental consciousness that continues to influence family studies and efforts to prevent child abuse. Her spare but evocative, graceful drawings recall the Golden Era of the vinyl LP when the high quality of an album’s artwork and graphics complemented the art of its musical content.


Barrington Stage Company’s Mainstage is at 30 Union Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Tickets: $45.00 and $35.00. Information: barringtonstageco.org and (413) 236-8888.


Elling With Strings, Including Heart Strings


On tour promoting one of his most challenging recordings, the standout, constantly evolving jazz vocalist Kurt Elling performs with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in a free concert on Saturday, June 20, at 7:00 pm as part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas.


Elling, whose new, bold CD is called Passion World, celebrates his latest tour de force -- a collection of romantic songs of love and loss from around the world -- as he presents his wide-ranging, expressive artistry with the NHSO on the historic New Haven Green.


“Romance is one of the things that most countries share,” Elling has explained of his song cycle rooted in romance, “and I’ve noticed how different communities have their own ways of singing about love and heartbreak.”    


On Passion World, the singer, who, for all the syllabic acrobatics of his scatting, is profoundly passionate about words, their meaning and poetic resonance, fearlessly sings a polyglot variety of songs of the heart in five different languages: Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and, of course, English.


Credit Anna Webber
Jazz vocalist Kurt Elling.


Never risk-averse, Elling also dares to tackle a stylistically daunting variety of pieces and vocal styles from around the globe. Odes to romance and love’s joy and sorrow, they range from Cuban composer Felix Reina Altuna’s potent mix of macho and vibrato on “Si TeContara” to the traditional Scottish song, “Loch Tay Boat Song,” a lament on unrequited love, skillfully navigated by Elling with a little bit of help from Scotland’s stellar jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.


Elling pours his heartfelt passion and artful craft into his international repertoire  rooted in romantic themes. The troubadour travels on his CD trek from U2’s humanitarian reflections on “Where the Streets Have No Name” to Brazilian singer/songwriter Dorival Caymmi’s festive “Voce Ja Foi a Bahia”in a breezy duet with singer Sara Gazarek. There’s even a stopover with German composer Johannes Brahms’ “Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht,”a German art song, or lied,leading him into the American art song form called the jazz ballad.


As a word-addicted lyricist, Elling chooses as the grand finale for “Passion World” a poem by the great Irish writer James Joyce, “Where Love Is,” with music by the Irish composer Brian Byrne.


For his concert on the Green, Elling will focus on material from his new CD along with tribute selections to mark Frank Sinatra’s centennial. To celebrate the centennial, the festival is hosting Sinatra: An American Icon, the official traveling exhibition of The 2015 Frank Sinatra Centennial. It’s free and open daily through June 27 in galleries at 1156 Chapel Street.0000017a-9b13-da61-a1ff-df1bde720000


Elling will join a panel discussion on Sinatra’s wide-ranging musical and cultural influence on Sunday, June 21, at 3:00 pm in another free festival event at Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street. Among other expert panelists is Sinatra’s daughter Tina Sinatra. Information: artidea.org.

The Transcendental Bach/Trane Ride to the Sublime

In another highlight at theInternational Festival of Arts and Ideas, Imani Winds, a premier wind quintet with a  knack  for innovation and an ecumenical embrace of everything from classical to jazz to contemporary, on Tuesday, June 23, at 8:00 pm, presents Passion for Bach and Coltrane at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven.

The Grammy-nominated, globetrotting quintet, which has collaborated with artists ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Wayne Shorter, will be joined by its special guests: the Harlem String Quartet, a jazz trio featuring pianist Alex Brown, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Neal Smith, plus readings by the  noted African-American poet, jazz critic and historian, A.B. Spellman.


Composed by quintet member Jeff Scott, “Passion for Bach and Coltrane” is inspired by Spellman’s poetry collection, “Things I Must Have Known.”Spellman’s poetry speaks to the mastery of Johann Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane and their shared quest for the sublime in their spiritually transporting works, as well as reflections on such supreme themes as religion and mortality.


Credit Matthew Murphy
Imani Winds, a Grammy-nominated wind quintet.

Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” a much-revered classic in jazz writing, brilliantly profiles Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, and includes an early, invaluable portrait of Jackie McLean (1931-2006), the celebrated alto saxophonist/composer who lived in Hartford for many years. A former deputy director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Spellman was also a founding member of the influential Black Arts Movement.

The evening opens with a 30-minute discussion moderated by music critic Steve Metcalf, who writesthe weekly Metcalf on Music blog for WNPR, speaking with Scott and Spellman, followed by the performance of Scott’s work.


Spellman, who writes poetry with its musical sound and rhythmic energies very much in mind, has confessed in interviews that he wishes, like so many of his fellow poets, writers and painters, that he were  a jazz musician.

Now in New Haven he gets to riff with his own inventive words as he sits-in with a world-class quintet playing music directly inspired by his poetic variations on grand themes, like Bach and Trane, that are so profoundly dear to his music-loving, writer’s heart.


Advance tickets: $45.00 regular/premium $65.00; day-of-show, $50.00 regular/$70.00 premium. Information: artidea.org and Box Office: (203) 498-3772.


Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.   



Owen McNally writes the weekly Jazz Corridor column for WNPR.org as well as periodic freelance pieces for The Hartford Courant and other publications.

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