Fred Astaire proved to be a jazz master, using his innate sense of rhythm and swing to collaborate with songwriting legends from Gershwin (“Nice Work if You Can Get It”) to Berlin (“Puttin’ on the Ritz”) and others to introduce some of their biggest hits.

Read a special commentary on Fred Astaire by Jazz in July artistic director Bill Charlap in the Program Notes.

Sachal Vasandani, vocals
Ken Peplowski, clarinet & tenor sax
Michael Dease, trombone
Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar
Renee Rosnes, piano
Bill Charlap, piano
George Mraz, bass
Carl Allen, drums

Randy Skinner, special guest dancer

 

 

Join us for more Jazz! This event can be purchased as part of a 2-concert, 4-concert or 6-concert package.

 

Jazz in July is partially endowed by a generous gift from Simona and Jerome A. Chazen.

Fred Astaire sings the Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” from Shall We Dance, 1937

Fred Astaire sings Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and dances with Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee, 2

Fred sings a medley of songs from the NBC special, “An Evening with Fred Astaire,” beginning with “Lady Be Good,” Oct 17, 1958

Karen Ziemba and David Elder dance “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” from Lyrics & Lyricists’ “Fred & Ginger in So Many Words: The Astaire–Rogers Songbook,” March 20–22, 2010, on 92Y OnDemand

Fred Astaire as the Mystery Guest on “What’s My Line,” June 8, 1958

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

The Fred Astaire Songbook, by Bill Charlap

So, what does Fred Astaire have to do with jazz? From my point of view, rhythm and dance are always central to the feeling of jazz. Rudolf Nureyev said, “Astaire was not just the best ballroom dancer, or tap dancer, he was simply the greatest, most imaginative, dancer of our time.”

There is another part of Astaire’s artistry that is so natural, it’s almost taken for granted—and that’s Astaire the singer. His phrasing is so effortless and so emblematic of American singing, that it puts him in the same category as Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. But there’s something even more extraordinary. The giants of American songwriting—Gershwin, Berlin, Kern and Porter—all wrote specifically for Astaire, and his performances of their songs are definitive. A short list includes “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “A Fine Romance,” “Night and Day,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “A Foggy Day” and many, many more. Astaire’s imprint is indelibly intertwined with the songs he introduced, and his aesthetic surely influenced the current of American popular music. Whether he was singing or dancing, Fred Astaire could swing. He had the rhythmic sophistication and verve of a great drummer. Remember that scene in Easter Parade when Astaire is dancing around a set of drums and playing a solo with his hands and feet? Talk about multitasking!

I’m excited to play these wonderful songs with my dancing partner, the brilliant Renee Rosnes at the piano. We’ll also have the infectiously positive and swinging guitar of Bucky Pizzarelli. The rhythm section is comprised of the virtuosic George Mraz at the bass and the ultra-tasteful Carl Allen on the drums. Clarinetist Ken Peplowski and trombonist Michael Dease—both masters of their instruments—will be our star soloists, and vocalist Sachal Vasandani will bring his own brand of elegance and warmth to this unique celebration of Fred Astaire. Can’t wait to see you all there for an evening that is sure to dance, sing and swing!

© 2014, Bill Charlap

Photo: Fred Astaire with George and Ira Gershwin on the set of Shall We Dance, 1937

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Fred Astaire: A biography, from bio.com

Born on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire is regarded by many as the greatest popular music dancer of all time. Astaire is usually remembered for his pairings with Ginger Rogers, who starred in several films with him, including Swing Time (1936). Light on his feet, Fred Astaire revolutionized the movie musical with his elegant and seemingly effortless dance style. He may have made dancing look easy, but he was a well-known perfectionist, and his work was the product of endless hours of practice.

Click here to read the full bio and watch a video presentation.

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Guest Artists Bios

Sachal Vasandani, vocals

Sachal Vasandani is one of this generation’s preeminent jazz vocalists. He has released three records on the Mack Avenue label. His latest, Hi-Fly, reached #1 on the iTunes Jazz chart. His latest project features original songs and will be released by Sony Music in early 2015. Sachal has been touring since 2007, appearing at clubs like New York’s Blue Note and London’s Ronnie Scott’s, venues like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and festivals like the North Sea and Nice (France) Jazz. When not leading his own groups, Mr. Vasandani has performed with many greats like Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis and Michael Feinstein. He appears on pianist Gerald Clayton’s CD, Life Forum, which was nominated for a 2013 Grammy. His website is sachalvasandani.com.
Photo Raj Naik

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Ken Peplowski, clarinet & tenor sax

This past March the Sarasota Jazz Festival presented Ken Peplowski with its “Satchmo” Award for his services to jazz, and New York’s Highlights in Jazz festival gave a concert in his honor. Mr. Peplowski has played and recorded with such artists as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Mel Tormé, Charlie Byrd, Peggy Lee, George Shearing and Bobby Short (on his last recording). His venues have ranged from clubs to the Hollywood Bowl and from European festivals to Las Vegas, and he can be heard on several Woody Allen films. Mr. Peplowski has recorded nearly 400 CDs as a sideman and 50 as a soloist; his latest is last year’s Maybe September. He is currently jazz director of the Oregon Festival of American Music. His website is kenpeplowski.com.

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Michael Dease, trombone

Michael Dease was a member of the historic first class of jazz students at The Juilliard School. A Grammy Award-winning trombonist, he has played with the jazz orchestras of Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton and Rufus Reid; the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band; and ensembles led by The Heath Brothers, Winard Harper, Bill Charlap and Claudio Roditi. His CD, Coming Home, released last year, received rave reviews. His other albums as a leader are Grace, Dease Bones, Clarity and The Dease-Maden Quintet: The Takeover, and he has appeared on more than 100 more as a sideman. Mr. Dease is also an arranger and composer, and he is assistant professor of jazz trombone at Michigan State University. His website is michaeldease.com.

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Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar

Seven-string jazz guitar legend John “Bucky” Pizzarelli has traveled the world with legends like Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Zoot Sims and George Shearing. He got his break with the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra, and as an NBC staff musician, he played in the bands of Kate Smith, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. He has also performed with orchestras and has played at the White House three times. Mr. Pizzarelli has made 30 solo albums and hundreds of recordings with artists like Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, and his two sons, John and Martin. He has received two honorary degrees, he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, and he has written three books on his technique. With only two exceptions, Mr. Pizzarelli has participated in every Jazz in July festival for the past 21 years.

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Renee Rosnes, piano

Renee Rosnes has toured and recorded with many of the greatest jazz masters, including Joe Henderson, J. J. Johnson, James Moody, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson. She was a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, and she frequently performs with bassist Ron Carter’s Quartet. She also leads her own band, which appeared at New York’s Village Vanguard the first week of this month. She has recorded 14 CDs as a leader, including the recent Manhattan Rain, as well as Double Portrait, a two-piano recording with her husband, Bill Charlap. As a distinguished composer and arranger, Ms. Rosnes has had many works performed at Jazz in July, and she serves as artistic consultant to the series. Her website is reneerosnes.com.
Photo: John Abbott

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George Mraz, bass

A native of the Czech Republic, George Mraz was influenced by the jazz broadcasts of Willis Conover on Voice of America. He attended the Prague Conservatory and was playing jazz throughout central Europe until 1968, when the Soviets entered Prague, leading him to accept a scholarship to Berklee School of Music in Boston. He has since played and recorded with dozens of artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock and the New York Jazz Quartet. Mr. Mraz also leads his own quartet which released Jazz at Prague Castle last year, and he joins other artists in trios and duos; last year the George Mraz/ David Hazeltine Trio released the CD, Your Story. His website is georgemraz.com.
Photo: Mary Jane Farnsworth

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Carl Allen, drums

Drummer Carl Allen grew up on gospel, R&B and funk but turned to jazz after hearing a record by Benny Carter. As a celebrated sideman, he has more than 200 recordings to his credit, and he has played with artists like Sammy Davis, Jr., Art Farmer, Jennifer Holliday, Freddie Hubbard, Lena Horne and Phil Woods. He currently leads his own quartet and also plays with Christian McBride with Inside Straight, Benny Golson and others. Mr. Allen served as artistic director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School until recently, and he has launched a new educational company, The New York Jazz Symposium (nyjazzed.com). Earlier this month he held symposiums in Melbourne, Australia; San Jose, California; and Ephraim, Utah. His website is carlallen.com.

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Randy Skinner, special guest dancer

Randy Skinner has received three Tony Award nominations for his choreography of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, 42nd Street and Ain’t Broadway Grand, also earning Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Astaire award nominations. Last month he choreographed the American premiere of Cole Porter’s long-lost The Ambassador Revue at Town Hall, and he has choreographed five New York City Center Encores! productions—Do Re Mi; Of Thee I Sing; Face the Music; No, No, Nanette and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; he also starred in last year’s On Your Toes. In Los Angeles, Mr. Skinner has received the LA Drama Critics and Dramalogue awards for his choreography, and on London’s West End he has choreographed productions of White Christmas and Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical.
Photo: Steve Abel

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Details & Ordering

  • I Won’t Dance: The Fred Astaire Songbook

    Date: Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 8 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

    Price: from $63.00

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