Pano: Swing Time in Santa Barbara

The first week of February 2022 should go down in Santa Barbara music history for several reasons. Thursday, February 3 marked the return of Joshua Bell to the Granada Theater for an electrifying recital presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. The following night, Friday, February 4, A&L brought down the same house with the first live performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) here since September 2018. You’d almost think things were back to normal. normal, and in many ways they were. Bell and Dugan were exceptional, as usual, and Marsalis and company were as brilliant as ever – which is very, very brilliant.

Joshua Bell, violin and Peter Dugan, piano. | Credit: David Bazemore

Much of the thrill of hearing these musicians live was the sense of collective purpose generated by an enthusiastic audience. Sharing music never felt so precious, and the gratitude that filled the theater was palpable on both nights.

A second aspect of the experience that intertwined with and reinforced the first came from the depth of history that the musicians possessed on stage. Thursday afternoon, as I was about to leave for the Bell and Dugan recital, a column of comments from the Los Angeles Time Critic Mark Swed appeared on my computer screen titled “The Duke Dilemma: Symphonic Ellington” is a mainstay – but still in need of a revival. Intrigued by the pataphysical notion of a new initiative taken, the need for which remains crying out, I continue my reading.

Although he was impressed by a recent performance of Duke Ellington’s music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Swed went on to analyze the various ways in which the legacy of Ellington’s immense production has not necessarily been well served. by the classical world or the world of jazz. As a company, we keep his best bits in constant rotation, but in Swed’s account, “we still don’t know what to do with Ellington” beyond that.

This edition of Pano was originally emailed to subscribers on February 9, 2022. To get Charles Donelan’s arts newsletter delivered to your inbox every Wednesday, sign up at

The crux of the matter revolves around a concept that enjoys great prominence in classical music circles today – the idea of ​​“historically informed performance,” or HIP. What is HIP? It’s a way of playing music that incorporates our least nostalgic understanding of what it has meant and continues to mean. What is not HIP? Period instruments employed for themselves or any other simplistic solution to the requirements of musical history.

Arriving at Granada on Thursday with this great try in mind, I couldn’t help but notice that Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan looked very HIP to me. Yet when I shared a ride home after the show with an esteemed colleague, he let me know that, in his opinion, Bell’s Bach was not HIP!

Wynton Marsalis and JLCO | Credit: David Bazemore

As I entered the theater again the following evening, I was more aware than ever of how the idea of ​​period authenticity had come to acquire such prominence in critical discourse. And that’s where I encountered a performance that blew up the cobwebs and tore up the rules about what is, and what isn’t, HIP, or hip, for that matter. Wynton Marsalis transformed the JLCO into an epic big band, capable of creating improvisational magic as cohesive as any band in the world. On this tour, they play arrangements contributed by different members over the decades and program them in sets determined primarily by democratic means. While sounding nothing like the great Ellington Orchestras, the JLCO nevertheless embodies the essential spirit of what Ellington has created – a harmonious society that values ​​individuals for their unique contributions to the whole. And if that’s not HIP, I don’t know what is.

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