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Artie Shaw Orchestra at Blues Alley (Monday, March 19, 2007)

So I just got home from seeing the Artie Shaw Orchestra at Blues Alley in Georgetown. First, let me talk about the venue. Blues Alley is this neat old jazz club nestled between M Street and the C&O Canal, right off Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Parking is convenient, if a tad pricey, in the garage across the street. The club itself is tiny, and is roughly divided into three sections of equal size — the bar, the dining area, and the stage. Yes, the stage takes up almost as much room as the audience. Also, like all of D.C., the club is now completely non-smoking. It's very cozy for a District venue, and the hefty cost of admission (plus food minimum and surcharge) reflect that. That said, the food is terrific. On previous occasions, I've had good luck with the crab-cakes and jambalaya, and this time I decided on the apple-stuffed pork chops with red beans and rice. It was excellent, though the red beans and rice were surprisingly mild for a Cajun menu. The house Chardonnay was good, but (need I mention) a bit on the pricey side. My only complaint was that the tiny, seven dollar piece of triple chocolate cake was bland and unimpressive, and had a slightly strange taste to it... almost peanutish (but it wasn't, because, see, I'm still alive).

Now, on to the show. As I mentioned, the stage takes up almost as much room as the dining area, though the stage doesn't go the whole width of the club, and we were seated at one of the tables on the side. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and there was only one table between us and the stage (and we were against the wall). The Artie Shaw Orchestra (for those of you who don't know), is a large jazz band in a similar style to Glenn Miller. They've got trumpets, trombones, saxes, clarinets, drums, a bass, and a piano -- a real big band. Since 1981, they've been led by clarinetist Dick Johnson (as Artie Shaw, himself, led the band in the 30s and 40s, and passed away a few years ago). They put on a heck of a show, with a level of precision that you don't see very much in a jazz band. In particular, the bassist (who did one number with a bow) and the drummer (whose hands moved too fast to see) put on inspired performances. The horn players had tremendous sound, and were never shrill or blatty. Mr. Johnson, at 75, does not perhaps have the embrochure that he once did, but he fingered one of the most technical clarinet performances I've seen in a long time, and I wonder if my issues with his intonation had more to do with the sound system equalization than anything else. The show was upbeat, the band is engaging and fun, and I definitely wouldn't pass up another opportunity to hear them play.

—Brian (3/19/2007 11:43 PM)
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