Sunday, January 15, 2012

Broadway's The Mountaintop a satirical look at the conflicted soul of Dr. King








The Mountaintop on Broadway

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere October 19, 2010

Gala photos by Dwight Casimere

-Dwight Casimere with Samuel L. Jackson

-Dwight Casimere with Angela Bassett

-The King Memorial

Production photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Red Carpet Photos by Andy Kropa/Getty Images

-Director Kenny Leon with playwright Katori Hall, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson

-Katori Hall, Kenny Leon and Angela Bassett at Escape, New York After Party

-Playwright Katori Hall

New York—Sunday, January 15, 2012, was the 83rd birthday-anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A wreath was placed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in the Washington Mall, and for the first time, an official ceremony and observance of the National Holiday in his honor, January, 16, took place there. Meanwhile, on Broadway, the play, The Mountaintop, by hot young playwright Katori Hall, is in its final week of performances at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Its final performance is Sunday, January 22. Hall’s newest play, “Hurt Village” opens at the Signature Theatre Company on February 7. At 30, she is the playwright to watch!

A number of King’s closest associates have criticized the play, some have even refused to see it, yet, the play won rave reviews in London where it had its world premiere at a tiny theatre above a pub in the hardscrabble Battersea area, and, after being championed by producer Sonia Friedman, moved to the Trafalgar Studios in the tony West End, where it, surprisingly, won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award.

A lot has happened in the 43 years since King’s passing. Most notably, the election of the nation’s first black President in the person of Barack Obama, whom many, including Blacks, have come to regard with varying degrees of disdain and skepticism just as others who have occupied the Oval Office before him. Perhaps that’s a sign of progress, which remains to be seen.

Since its Broadway inception, the reviews for the Mountaintop have been lukewarm, at best, however, the characterizations by movie powerhouse actors Samuel L. Jackson as King and Angela Bassett as the fictional maid, Camae, make it a must see.

If you’re planning to go see the play, be forewarned. This is not the pious velvet-portrait image you might have seen on your Aunt Sadie’s living room wall. This is a living, breathing man with passions, desires, cravings and an especially foul mouth. Some of King’s supporters cried “foul” when they saw the play, saying King was nothing like the man portrayed by author Hall in the person of Jackson. They may have missed, however, the intent of the playwright. The Mountaintop is somewhat of a writer’s conceit and a socio-political satire, something the British relish in and certainly understand as a medium much more so than Americans. Perhaps that’s why it to took London, and the Olivier, by storm.

King, according to the FBI, was a womanizer and Hall built a certain amount of sexual tension into the relationship between he and Camae, the maid who services Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on the might of April 3, 1968, his last as a mortal being.

The play opens on a jarring note: a loud thunderbolt (or is it the sound of a high-powered rifle?). It startles the audience from the darkened stage. Then a blaze of projected images flash across the rear of the stage, portraying the tumultuous events of the 1960s: Angela Davis, the Black Panther Party, weapons drawn, The Watts Riots, all appear in rapid succession. The montage serves to set the social milieu of the play, accompanied with the brooding almost elegiac music of Branford Marsalis. It makes the point, vividly, that the Black Power Movement and the violence of its riots coexisted in tandem with King’s peaceful non-violent movement. Upon his assassination, moderate voices, such as his, receded into the background and the more truculent voices of the masses rose to the fore in the person of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.

King (Jackson) enters the dingy motel room looking disheveled, half-sick and coughing violently, having just delivered his monumental “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike at Mason Temple. His slumped demeanor, the depressing surroundings, and the dismal weather are in sharp contrast to the perceived greatness of the man and the historical significance of the events surrounding him. The first thing he does is check for bugs in the room, not the many legged kind, of which there are probably many, but the electronic kind, planted by the FBI. Camae quickly joins him, the rookie maid sent to his room, almost as initiation hazing by the hotel management. She’s humbled by the presence of such a great man. At first, King ignores her as he mutters under his breath the opening lines of a new speech he is preparing, one that will probably have shocking repercussions if it is ever heard. Perhaps it is a window into the soul of the real man beneath the pious fa├žade. The title of the speech is “Why America’s going straight to Hell!”

As a thunderclap sounds outside, King looks anxiously out of the window and shouts to no one, “Where is that Nigga’ with my cigarettes!” referring to his roommate and close confident Rev. Ralph Abernathy, whom he had sent on an errand to get a pack of Pall Malls. (African Americans, although a pejorative, often use the term “nigger”, as a backhanded term of endearment among themselves.)

Camae is a bit star struck, but quickly starts getting into King’s business, asking about his family and his wife, even getting into a discussion about what kind of flowers King should buy for her. As she gets more comfortable in his presence, she becomes more forward, even deigning to offer her opinions on the movement he is leading. There’s an interesting exchange about the presence of looters at the tail end of a march King had led through downtown Memphis that resulted in bands of youths smashing store windows and stealing color televisions. Their dialogue displays the severe disconnect between black leadership and the desires of the rank and file masses. (“What if all they really want is a new color TV and not all them high soundin’ words!” paraphrasing Camae.)

That’s when things quickly begin to shift gears. Camae gets more emboldened and decides to give King a dose of his own medicine. Jumping up on top of the bed as if she were on a stage, she delivers a mock civil rights speech at the top of her lungs. It’s a brilliant turn by Bassett and worthy of a Tony © nod. Things proceed in pretty much the same vein for the next 15-minutes or so, with the sexual and intellectual tension between King and Camae building until things take a sudden turn. Camae calls King by his Christian name. Suddenly he realizes that the person he thought was just a simple, foul-mouthed street urchin turned hotel worker, is something much more.

Hall once said in an interview that the inspiration for “The Mountaintop” came from a family story that had been passed down. The play has that fable-like quality shared by many of August Wilson’s plots, particularly that of The Piano Lesson.

For all the flaws and dead spots in the play, there are some fireworks and redeeming qualities. Jackson does a credible job of emulating the measured, intoned speech of Martin Luther King. He also does a superb job of revealing the tortured soul that lies just beneath the surface of his carefully cultivated ministerial persona. No one really knows what King was like in his most private moments. I’m sure we would all be shocked if we heard the behind- closed-doors utterances and observed the private behavior of many of our most revered leaders. King was, after all, just a man, although a very great one and, as Hall so aptly points out, his Truth is Marching On in the faces of so many new leaders and causes. Witness the Freedom Movement sweeping the Middle East and Occupy Wall Street.

The Mountaintop runs 90 minutes with no intermission. The final performance is Sunday, January 22 at 3pm. For tickets and showtimes, visit www.themountaintopplay.com.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dee Dee Bridgewater SCP Jazz: To Billie With Love






Entertainment

Dee Dee Bridgewater at Symphony Center Presents Jazz Series

Lady Day rhapsodized and revered

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chicago—A brown skinned, green sequin gowned hurricane swept across the Armour Stage of Chicago Symphony Center, like a thirty-mile an hour wind off nearby Lake Michigan. It was in the person of three time Grammy © Award winning singer (Dear Ella-2 categories, 1998, To Billie With Love, 2010) and Tony © Award winning actress (The Wiz, 1975) Dee Dee Bridgewater. Audience members at the SCP Jazz Series got a Deep Dish Pizza sized helping of both of those unique talents in her program TO BILLIE WITH LOVE: A CELEBRATION OF LADY DAY.

A stellar trio of musicians who communicated with her as if they were extensions of her lengthy green-tipped eyelashes accompanied Bridgewater. The musical interplay (or should I call it foreplay) between she and reed artist Craig Handy was nothing short of erotic, with the pair intersecting, diverging the dovetailing in musical flight like two love birds. Their “scatting” set a new standard for the art form.

Billie Holiday sounded nothing like Dee Dee Bridgewater and vice versa, but, using her considerable vocal instrument and her mesmerizing chops as an actress, she was able to give flesh and blood to the spirit of her musical idol. “Hush Now, Don’t Explain” became an anthem to the sexual and emotional abuse suffered by many black women. She emboldened the phrase “and I know you CHEAT”, with all the venomous rage it deserved. Billie never sang it that way, but she probably felt it!

Dee Dee's artistry and that of her musicians elevated the music of Lady Day to its lofty surroundings. Her artistry and vocal prowess was as equal, in her genre, as that of Jessye Norman, in hers. Craig Handy’s soulful runs and modal flights of fancy on the flute brought to mind the great Yusef Lateef (2010 NEA Jazz Master Award, 1987 GRAMMY © Award for Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony), while his trills and obbligatos were as precise and evocative as those of Jean Pierre Rampal. Pianist and musical director Edsel Gomez showed the strength of his chops with a dazzling display of two-fisted block chords in the manner of Fats Waller and Jay McShann on Bridgewater’s “N’Awlins” take on “Them There Eyes.” He quickly shifted gears and delivered gossamer arpeggios and intricate cascading runs that proved he was no stranger to the delicacies of Chopin and Debussy.

I’ve never seen a vocal artist stroke a bass during a performance as Bridgewater did as bassist Kenny Davis, a native Chicagoan, plied it with a bow during Holiday's Fine and Mellow. It almost made one want to close their eyes in order to give them some privacy. For a few moments, she let loose with a dead on vocal impression of Lady Day that let the audience know she could channel the great one at will. No need, Bridgewater’s vocal impressions and interpretations made the music and the lyrics come alive in a new and dynamic fashion that put a contemporary face on a voice silenced by a life too harsh for a soul that, unlike popular belief, was as delicate as the gardenia Lady Day often wore in her hair.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Broadway In Chicago: Come Fly Away a seductive mix of dance, song









By Dwight Casimere

Photos courtesy Broadway In Chicago

Broadway In Chicago’s new Broadway musical Come Fly Away is a taut, sexy romp through the world of the music of Frank Sinatra with the choreography of Tony Award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp and a team of the sultriest, most aero-dynamic dancers around. It’s only 80 minutes long, but Ol’ Blue Eyes was never long on ceremony. The combination of Sinatra’s voice, delivered in full surround sound in the Bank of America Theatre, accompanied by killer music charts written exclusively for him by a Smithsonian Gallery of the best arrangers of the last century; Quincy Jones, Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, Gordon Jenkins, Neal Hefti, Torri Zito, Sam Nestico, Ernie Freeman and that great songsmith, Johnny Mandel (The Shadow of Your Smile, The Song From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)), combined with the Fly Away Band, under the direction of Rob Cookman, is composed of a powerful collection of seasoned Big Band musicians. Trumpet solo Mike Herriott, a Juno Award winner and veteran of Canadian Brass and Saxophonist P.J. Perry, a fellow Canadian and Juno Award winner, best known for his work with The Joy of Sax and the Rob McConnell Tentet, and local Trombone whiz Scott Bentall, particularly during The Band interludes, Count Basie’s Jumpin’ at the Woodside and the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck Take Five with Tharp’s kinetic dancers unleashing a torrent of gravity defying leaps, throws and lifts, straight from Tharp’s imaginative playbook.

The intermission less show transports the audience on a magic carpet ride through the starlit world of Frank Sinatra, with his velvet, whiskey sour voice and robust brass arrangements providing the jet stream and aerial lift. It all begins with Stardust, Luck Be A Lady and Let’s Fall In Love.

The dancers are amazing. They do things with their bodies that don't seem possible, given our reference of gravity. The photos above prove my claim. Their interpretations leave nothing to the imagination. I don't think anyone needed the little blue pill after watching the undulations in Makin' Whoopee!

The Company’s finales of the iconic My Way and New York, New York left the audience as breathless as the chorus of dancers onstage. Come Fly Away is at the Bank of America Theatre through Jan. 22.

Broadway In Chicago: In The Heights, A Salsa-flavored reality check







It’s a pity that Broadway In Chicago’s In The Heights will have its final performance in the Windy City this Sunday, Jan.15 at 6:30pm. The Salsa and Hip Hop flavored musical about the trials and tribulations of the largely Latino community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood is just the type of wide-eyed optimistic, emotional energy boost needed after the sugar-high euphoria of the New Year celebrations crashes into the emotional dungeon of hard, cold reality.

In The Heights swept the Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 2008 and also won the Grammy Award that same year for Best Musical Show Album. Watching the amicable, eager-to-please cast work up a sweat on the Oriental Theatre stage, it’s easy to see why. Even in a somewhat slimmed down touring version, it still packs an emotional wallop.

In The Heights tells the oversimplified story of mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants struggling to make a go of it in the tenements of Washington Heights, in Manhattan’s far north reaches near the George Washington Bridge. The look and feel of the show owes a lot to its Broadway predecessors West Side Story and RENT, but the plot line lacks the bite of both. The music and dancing, however, save the day and this outing’s hard-driving cast makes a point of delivering the poignant message behind the words and music.

Perry Young is a swaggering, hipster with a heart as Usnavi, the local Bodega owner who anchors the story and acts as its narrator. He’s no substitute for the original, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics and played the title role, but he makes a strong showing here. A fetching Virginia Cavaliere is the golden-voiced Nina, the only one in the neighborhood who ever made it to college. She finds herself ashamed after flunking out of Stanford. She’s embarrassed to tell her father, who worked so hard at the family's local jitney cabstand to make that dream possible. Their relationship is further complicated by the Romeo and Juliet-type romance develops between she and the company's African-American dispatcher, Benny (a fiery Kyle Carter), who romances her against her father’s wishes. There's racial and cultural tension as Nina's father declares to Benny, "you're not one of us!" an unkind cut, especially since the father had previously treated Benny as if he were his own son, bringing him into the business and making him a dispatcher, a position of honor. Benny does a semi-rap as he dispatches the cab company's fleet that is absolutely hilarious and one of the most imaginative stretches of alliteration in the entire musical. Shakespeare would have been proud.

One of the most touching scenes is the balcony scene, “Sunrise” at the start of Act II, which gives voice to the humble aspirations of the entire cast of characters. Christina Aranda is charming as the neighborhood matriarch Abuela (Grandmother) Claudia, who has secretly hit the lotto and has vowed to take care of everyone in the neighborhood with her winnings.

In The Heights presents a very simplified version of the struggles of immigrant Americans, trying to make it against the odds. But, hey, this isn’t Masterpiece Theatre. It’s a great evening out with a message; one that the ‘suits’ on Capitol Hill would do well to have a listen to. Maybe the In The Heights crew can take a swing by Kennedy Center in D.C. and send all of the members of Congress a free ticket!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette in dual Blue Note Celebration





Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

-Dwight Casimere (l) with NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette, the two were classmates at Englewood High School on Chicago's South Side

-Jack DeJohnette and sextet at the Blue Note

-Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire leads the finale on "Sonny Light"

-A work by Willem de Kooning




New York—Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette has a lot to celebrate as he embarks on the New Year of 2012. On this night, at the Blue Note, he’s the object of a 70th Birthday Celebration. He is also being honored in a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center commemorating his being awarded the 2012 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Fellowship, the highest honor for any jazz musician.

“I guess I’ll be celebrating all year,” he told me post performance. “Unfortunately, my good friend Von Freeman (a fellow Chicagoan, who is 82 years young) is ill and can’t be here with me.” Fellow jazz veterans Sheila Jordan, Charlie Haden and Jimmy Owens will be on hand to help ring in the ‘year of Jack DeJohnette’ in grand jazz style at the Rose Theatre concert.

The NEA award is just the formal recognition of a career resume that speaks volumes; he was a significant component of the original Charles Lloyd Quartet and Miles Davis’s landmark fusion bands and albums of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He, in fact, joined Davis’s group in 1968, just in time for the groundbreaking album Bitches Brew. He’s a frequent collaborator with pianist Keith Jarrett. Tonight, he’s fronting his own Sextet, playing original compositions from his new CD, Sound Travels. Tonight’s performance is a prelude to what audiences will be hearing at the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals and on his European tour later this year.

Jack DeJohnette does with drumsticks what the artist Willem de Kooning did with paint brushes, creating vivid images composed of bold swatches of heightened tonal color and lyrical lines that morph across diverse cultural landscapes and disparate musical formats.

Tonight’s aggregate is very international in nature, and reflects the musical eclecticism of its leader. Each is an established composer in his own right and has his own share of accolades and honors to his credit. The depth and intensity of their collective performance provided a rare window into the inner workings of the creative process. Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, is of Indian descent, but was born in Trieste, Italy and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and 2011 Downbeat International Critics Poll Alto Saxophonist of the Year whose music incorporates the fusion of South Asian and traditional jazz influences. Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski is an iconoclastic and prolific American jazz-fusion guitarist, hailed by the world press for his inventive approach. On this occasion, he is playing the two-necked guitar. “The top one is a fretless keyboard,” he explained to me, “much like a violin. It allows me to slide up and down between the notes as they do in Middle Eastern music. It creates a sound not unlike what you might here in the market square in Marrakesh. Jack heard me playing at a wedding recently, and I was doing a lot of Mediterranean-type music. He approached me and said he wanted me here on the gig because, ‘that’s the music I’ve been hearing in my head. (Paraphrasing Jack) We’ve got to do that at the Blue Note!’”

Venezuelan Percussionist Luisito Quintero in regarded as one of the hottest timbaleros in New York’s tightly knit Latin music fraternity. Having heard him on two successive nights, accompanying Richard Bona’s Mandekan Cubano project at the Jazz Standard and then again at tonight’s Blue Note engagement with DeJohnette, the word on his fiery facility with Afro-Venezuelan rhythms has obviously gotten around.

Bass guitar Jerome Harris has won international acclaim for his penetrating and versatile style. Besides being a fluid bassist, he has also distinguished himself as a guitarist. His hauntingly plaintively vocals add a highly emotive subtext. “Salsa For Luisito” provided not only a workout for Quintero’s considerable Afro-Latin chops, but a vehicle for Harris’s expansive vocals.

Saxophonist Tim Ries embodies the words “fusion” and “crossover.” He has performed and toured extensively with The Rolling Stones. In, his latest CD is Stones World/The Rolling Stones Project II. Ries has written more than 100 compositions in both the jazz and classical idioms. His Verve release with the Joe Henderson Big Band won a Grammy Award. His blazing soprano sax solos, particularly on the Sound Travels cut, Tango Africain, made the case for his considerable prowess.

Among the standout moments of the evening, Alto sax solos by Rudresh Mahanthappa on One for Eric, in honor of reed shooting star Eric Dolphy and Soulful Ballad, DeJohnette’s “talking timpani” on Tango Africain and keyboardist George Colligan, and his intense, liquid melodic explorations.

Fireworks emanated from the finale, Sonny Light, a tribute to Sonny Rollins, who Jack and other NEA Masters played for at his recent coronation at the Kennedy Center Honors. “Sonny just lights up a room and brings joy,” DeJohnette said before launching into the tune. It was an explosive romp in the Sunny Isles of the Caribbean, with guest trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. A native of Oakland, California, he is the winner of the 2007 Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition and the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition, two of the most prestigious jazz competitions in the world, makes him one of the hottest young trumpeters on the current jazz scene. His fiery intensity was reminiscent of a young Hugh Masekela combined with the sophisticated chops of a Dizzy Gillespie. This was truly a memorable evening of Modern Jazz at its best.

Jack DeJohnette was born in Chicago in 1942. The Blue Note engagement provide an opportunity for a happy reunion for this reviewer, who attended Englewood High School on the South Side of Chicago with a then aspiring pianist, who had dreams of leading his own band in New York City. From all accounts, it’s a dream fulfilled and beyond anyone’s wildest imagination!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wynton Marsalis : The Music of Jelly Roll Morton & King Oliver






Wynton Marsalis: The Music of Jelly Roll Morton & King Oliver

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

-JALC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis with Dwight Casimere

-Master Drummer Yacub Addy (r)

-JALC Orchestra at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola


New York—“All jazz is modern,” Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center declared, before embarking on an exploration of the music of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. The concerts were carried in live video stream on the internet and on local National Public Radio stations around the country.

Marsalis’s New Year’s Eve weekend concerts served as a vehicle to explore the music of nearly a century ago, in order, he explained, to better understand the music of today. “When you listen to this music, you realize that this is the source. This is where it all comes from.” With that, Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra launched into King Oliver’s “Dipper Mouth Blues,” which Marsalis later said was named in honor of Oliver’s second trumpet, a then-newcomer by the name of Louis Armstrong. "In the early days, before he became Satchmo, his nickname was Dipper Mouth.” Besides Marsalis’s searing trumpet solos, clarinetist Victor Goines ignited the solo passages of this up-tempo, bright homage to the greatest jazz trumpeter of the last century, Armstrong, as played by the greatest jazz trumpeter of this century, Marsalis.

Trumpeter Marcus Printup and Tenor sax Walter Blanding then proceeded to raise the roof on Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Bump. Afterwards, Morton’s Dead Man Blues started with the elegiac ring of a cowbell and a short dialogue from the band members, which bemused the passing of a stranger. Spearheaded by Ricky “Dirty Red” Gordon on washboard and percussion, the orchestra then launched into a funeral dirge accented by Chris Crenshaw, the youngest member of the band, on trombone. Dueling clarinets from reedists Victor Goines and Walter Blanding, with extended solos by Ali Jackson on drums and James Chirillo on banjo and Carlos Henriquez on bass, brought home the exquisite nature of the point, counterpoint, almost fugue-like character of early jazz.

“The thing you’ll notice about this music,” Marsalis later explained, “is that sometimes, everybody plays at once. At times, it sounds like they’re almost fighting!” Victor Goines' elongated notes and prolonged passages created an excitement that really kicked the entire proceeding up a notch. “They used to call Jelly Roll the ‘Bard of New Orleans,” Marsalis explained. Dead Man Blues demonstrated why.

Pianist Dan Nimmer, with his encyclopedic keyboard knowledge, moved effortlessly between the stride piano percussiveness of yesteryear to the McCoy Tyner-tinged aggressiveness of the avant-garde.

The most exquisite moments of the evening occurred when Marsalis himself launched into extended trumpet solos. Early jazz seems to bring out the best in him. He not only plays from his soul, he reaches into the imprint of his DNA to reveal the music that spawned his musical genius. Perhaps the most revealing moments came at the end of the concert, when African Master Drummer Yacub Addy joined Marsalis and the orchestra. The collaboration further demonstrated the cultural roots and timeless expression of music that is as relevant today as it was at its inception nearly a hundred years ago.

Upcoming engagements at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola include MLK Celebration with Warren Wolf Quintet Jan 16, The Music of Max Roach with Willie Jones III Sextet Jan 17-22 and Victor Goines leading his own Quintet Jan 31. For information, visit jalc.org/dccc.

New Year's Eve 2011, a celebration with many faces






The many faces of New Year’s Eve

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

New York Harbor photos by Meghan Hart

-The Luxury Yacht Manhattan at Chelsea Pier

-Fireworks over New York Harbor

-The balloon drop at midnight, the Waldorf=Astoria, Happy New Year 2012!

-New Year’s Eve revelers at the Starlight Roof

New York---From watching fireworks near the Statue of Liberty from an historically influenced yacht, to observing the famed Waterford Crystal ball drop in a freezing Times Square to the balloon drop in the Starlight Roof of the venerable Waldorf=Astoria hotel, New Year’s Eve 2011 was a cornucopia of sights, sounds and experiences.

When the 1920s-styled luxury yacht Manhattan powered from Chelsea Pier into New York Harbor to witness the ‘rockets red glare’ around the Statue of Liberty, it was just the start of an historic New Year’s Eve celebration. Operated by Classic Harbor Line, the 1920s style, mahogany-trimmed “commuter” yacht offers a unique weekend cruise that encircles the entire island of Manhattan, passing under its bridges and stopping at the Statue of Liberty. Simultaneously, the countdown was beginning at Times Square, where a million people braved the arctic cold to await the timed ball drop at One Times Square.

The iconic Starlight Roof at the famed Waldorf=Astoria hotel on Park Avenue was the scene of one of the nation’s most revered traditions, the hotel's annual New Year’s Eve Gala. Past generations delighted in the live national televised broadcast of Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians and their annual New Year’s Eve show from 1960 to 1978. This year’s New Year’s Eve Gala 2011 was a celebration of R & B, Pop, Soul and Big Band Era hits with a live orchestra and a brilliant vocal ensemble. They played and sang while large screen television monitors kept revelers abreast of the ball-drop activities in Times Square with Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest.

The Waldorf=Astoria’s Executive Chef and his brilliant team provided a sumptuous banquet at the Starlight Roof. Beginning with an Amuse Bouche of Ginger Crusted Tuna with Glass Noodles and Pickled Scallions, the seamless wait-staff guided diners through an exceptional four-course dinner that was highlighted by the superb Entrees of perfectly prepared Rack of Lamb Persillade, with Candied Eggplant, Potato Ecresse and Melted Leeks or Grilled Tournedo of Beef (Prime Aged Filet Mignon), cooked to perfection with a Saffron Mussel Risotto, Fennel, Tomato and a Mediterranean influenced Bouillabaisse Sauce.

Perrier Jouet Champagne Grand Brut ($39) flowed throughout the evening, leading to a celebratory toast and the much-anticipated balloon drop from the Art Deco panels of the Starlight Roof.

A Champagne Toast punctuated the night. The toasty, polished texture of the Perrier Jouet added to the festive nature of the evening and brought out the subtle flavors of the cuisine with its hints of Golden Delicious apple, brioche pastry and spiced orange peel. As Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2012 completed the countdown, the simultaneous festive balloon at the Starlight Roof and the descent of the Crystal Ball in Times Square marked the start of what promises to be a spectacular 2012!