To celebrate the Fourth of July I can't think of a more thoughtful alternative to the jingoism of Sousa marches than this showcase of folk and jazz ballads of the last century and a half, including "Listen to the Mocking Bird" and "Little Brown Jug" (wryly sentimental tunes by the Winner brothers that were huge hits in the late 1800s), jazz standbys like Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and Joe Garland's "In the Mood," and sophisticatedly naughty declarations of independence like Porter's "Anything Goes" and Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Headlining the songfest--and few would argue with the choice--is George Gershwin, who elevated the American song into the realm of genuine vernacular artistry. The selections are predictable, but who can resist another chance to hear "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Summertime"? Featured soloists are lyric soprano Elizabeth Norman and jazz pianist Marcus Roberts. A Chicago native who recently placed second in the Metropolitan Opera Regional Competition, Norman has a sweet, booming voice; her classical background should allow her to do justice to most of the songs. Roberts, who'll perform the inevitable Rhapsody in Blue, absolutely glows in his jazzy readings of Gershwin numbers on the CD Gershwin for Lovers (Columbia). Discovered and influenced by Wynton Marsalis, the versatile 31-year-old Roberts (who's been blind since age 5) has enough classical training to be a convincing crossover musician. His keyboard playing is sensational yet impeccably mannered. Michael Morgan, the erstwhile Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant maestro now based in Oakland, presides at the podium; he's a zesty conductor who can definitely get into the swing of things. Saturday, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, Grand Ave. at the lake; 819-0614.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Nan Watanabe.