It's high time someone employs several hundred words to sing the praises of jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein for the widest audience possible. If someone already has, then it's high time someone else takes up the important musical and comedy campaign in favor of an entertainer with potentially vast appeal. Therefore, here goes:
It's not just that Weinstein -- at 26, bespectacled, thin as his bow and always nattily dressed in stylish but conservative suit with signature bowtie -- has impeccable control of his cooperative fiddle. It's not just that with it he's partial to George Gershwin's deceptively suave melodies. It's not just that he's an arranger with mesmerizingly fresh notions. It's not just that he introduces his music and comments on it with a knee-slapping mock-tentative delivery that establishes him hands-down as the 21st-century Jack Benny.
It's not just those shining attributes. It's also his ability to accommodate himself to all sorts of musical situations. His latest impulse -- brought to fruition at Birdland on Sunday, November 27 and Monday, November 28 -- is a collaboration tagged "Strings Attached" between his trio (the brilliant Tedd Firth on piano and the smoothly reliable Tom Hubbard on bass) with two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole.
Perhaps when planning the inspired folderol, the imaginative Weinstein figured he was designing a one-time gig, but the result has to be regarded as the debut of an astonishing new show-biz act. Turns out that, though she's known most for her Broadway savvy (and less so for her Royal Pains USA series appearances), Ebersole is one helluva jazz singer -- the credit for bringing that knack out in her going to Weinstein, it certainly seems.
Well, she's sung just as importantly with pianist Billy Stritch, too, and that mustn't be forgotten.
Always glowing whenever she hits a stage or screen, the blond, round-cheeked Ebersole has an infallible instinct for jollying a melody that jibes seamlessly with what Weinstein is doing as he rapidly saws away and as Firth and Hubbard fill their breaks with matching virtuosity. To gauge Ebersole's range, it's not necessary to go any further than her quietly emotional tribute to Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" followed by a growled version of Dave Frishberg's hilariously frustrated "Can't Take You Nowhere." Has the harangue to a annoying significant other ever been better interpreted?
And this following shortly after her supple lead-off rendition of the Fats Waller-Charles R. Grean-Maxine Manners "Jitterbug Waltz," during which she indisputably illustrated what Weinstein means by the violin's being the closest approximation to the human voice. (Some trumpet players might disagree.) Not to mention tossing off Tom Lehrer's "Hanukkah in Santa Monica" for seasonal good cheer -- and Ebersole having her little casting joke by insisting she's using the ditty as an audition for the role of Golde in a future Fiddler on the Roof production.
The mere mention of the titles so far should have mouths watering, and that's only the start of what superb-taste-in-music Weinstein chatted about in his calculatedly halting manner. Before he played a single vibrant note, he read a message he claimed to have received from a music fan suggesting his devotion to standards is misplaced in someone so young. He said that, deferring to the missive, he'd decided to play something he composed according to Arnold Schoenberg's theories. Then he explained he'd forgotten to bring it and would have to fall back on the George and Ira Gershwin "Somebody Loves Me," which he gave a dazzling run-through.
Part of what makes Weinstein such a hoot to watch is his mixture of uncertainty and complete confidence. Going on about his bringing to the stage a "musicians' musician that other musicians' musicians deem a musicians' musician" -- or something to that comically confusing effect -- Weinstein didn't introduce Ebersole, as the audience assumed was the case, but introduced himself, whereupon he took several modest bows. On he went in that sophisticatedly silly vein, like the patch where he sat down to play an electric mandolin, while Ebersole tooted the Johnny Mercer-Victor Schertzinger "Tangerine."
Towards the beginning of a set that lasted about an hour and was a string of highlights, Ebersole--wearing a bowtie (I've been influenced by Aaron," she said) and a black outfit with bell-bottom trousers--mentioned she'd only had two rehearsals. As a result, she confessed she felt as if she were being shot from a cannon. Later she mused that what's important about such a blast is the landing.
She and her pals landed squarely in hit territory after only a couple of rehearsals. Think what repeated preparations will lead to. The primary reason is that Ebersole's sense of musicality and humor and Weinstein's is as perfect a blend as coffee and cream. Come to think of it, the world-wide limits of the Weinstein-Ebersole-Firth-Hubbard connection are about the same as the limits on the global demand for caffeinated drinks.