Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wynton Marsalis Debuts "Louis" at Chicago Symphony Center


1. Anthony Coleman as a young Louis Armstrong

2.Wynton Marsalis

3. Louis, himself

Chicago-LOUIS, Daniel Pritzker's film homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and the birth of jazz had its world premiere at Symphony Center. Directed and co-written by Chicago native Pritzker, the film tells the story of the impoverished six-year-old Armstrong, whose dreams of playing the trumpet are intertwined with the grand bordellos, gangs and the corrupt underworld of 1907 New Orleans.

A modern reimagining of an early silent film, LOUIS was photographed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in color in order to approximate the grain and texture of old time black-and-white film.

The biggest difference between Pritzker's film and actual silents is music: Instead of a lone piano or organ, LOUIS had glorious, live accompaniment by Wynton Marsalis and his 11 piece jazz ensemble. Wynton's jazz alternated with pianist Cecile Licad playing music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Chopin and others. Marsalis, an executive producer, scored the film. Andy Farber was the conductor. Branford Marsalis plays the orphanage director who gives Louis his first real trumpet and first gig (in the institution's marching band).

Anthony Coleman stars as Louis. Jackie Earle Haley, in a Chaplin homage, plays the corrupt politician with more than a passing interest in a brothel. Shanti Lowry is the beautiful prostitute who captivates both the politician and young Louis.

Dance is another of the stars of LOUIS. Choreographer Hinton Battle brilliantly incorporates modern and African dance, classical ballet and even point work in his tapestry. Dan Moore's creative costumes make "ladies of the night" look like an exotic ballet ensemble.

In addition to Chicago LOUIS has live dates in Detroit, Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York (Harlem's Apollo Theater).


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brown's Hotel. London: Crossroads to luxury, history and culture

Travel With Dwight The Wine Doctor-London

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

London is my absolute favorite city. There is no place that has such an air of mystery and excitement. Almost everywhere you walk, you see something that reminds you of its glorious past and at the same time, reminds you that the city is at the cutting edge of Western culture. Music, literature, the arts, food, fashion, all have their nexus there. Standing in Piccadilly Circus or on St. James Street, one becomes instantly aware that they are standing at the heart of the world’s cultural center.

There is no better time to plan a trip to this great city. With summer’s joys now a memory and the kids back in school, now is the time to look forward to a fall or Mid-Winter Holiday in the heart of London. For the culturally minded, London’s theatre, dance and music scene are in full swing. Any city that has five resident symphony orchestras certainly qualifies as a required destination.

Wimbledon and the British Open may have come and gone, but there is no shortage of diversions for the sports enthusiast. The 38th Ryder’ Cup takes place at the Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales October 1-3. Team Captain Corey Pavin is lining up his top picks and hints that Tiger Woods is still high on his list to make the cut, in spite of poor play on the PGA Tour.

Don’t forget world-famous Harrods and its legendary Winter Sale set once again during December and January. There's no better place to get in the Holiday spirit than London and a shopping spree at Harrods is the ultimate experience!

Brown’s Hotel, in the heart of Central London in Mayfair, is within walking distance to virtually all that London has to offer. It is the quintessential English experience and has been rated the best hotel in London.

History and luxury meet at Brown’s Hotel. The hotel’s back-story reads like a Somerset Maugham novel. James and Sarah Brown, the couple who had been valet and maid to Lord and Lady Byron, founded the hotel in 1837. At the time, it was London’s first hotel where patrons could rent rooms by the night. Prior to that, flats were rented by the month or people would rent rooms at boarding houses or above taverns (remember the movie ‘Tom Jones?). The Browns saw a need for something more.

To say Brown’s Hotel was a hit is an understatement. Queen Victoria dined there occasionally and, over the years, the world’s glitterati and literati found their way to its doorstep, Winston Churchill, Presidents Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. Agatha Christie found inspiration there for one of her novels, “At Bertram’s Hotel.”

Brown’s Hotel is not without its own place in history. “These are the rooms where Alexander Graham Bell tested one his new inventions, the first electromagnetic telephone .” a hotel spokesperson told me prior to a sumptuous breakfast of smoked salmon and baked shrimp omelet in the English Tea Room, which also offers one of the most famous afternoon teas in all of London. It was voted “Top London Afternoon Tea” by The Tea Guild.

Bell had brought a handmade model of his telephone with him during a whirlwind tour of Europe with his new bride, Mabel Hubbard, turning his year-long honeymoon into a working holiday. While in England, he also demonstrated the device to Queen Victoria at Osbourne Place, her home on the Isle of Wight. She called the device “most extraordinary.”

Brown’s Hotel has been a source of innovation from day one. Besides being London’s first hotel, it was also the first to have it’s own restaurant. When the Ford family bought it in 1859, they modernized the hotel with en suite bathtubs, electric lights and elevators, making it among the first buildings to have those amenities.

Of all the changes at the hotel, the on-site restaurant had the most dramatic social impact. Prior to it’s opening, guests rented individual suites and dined privately. The restaurant became a place to mix and mingle with others of like stature and quickly became a place to see and be seen. It may very well have been the place where the concept behind the word ‘celebrity’ was fashioned.

Browns’ Hotel is composed of a series of interconnected townhouses that are distinct in character. No two suites are the same and each has a distinct d├ęcor.

Brown’s Hotel is currently offering a unique opportunity to families to visit London and experience all that the hotel has to offer. It’s called “its A Family Affair” and what better way to treat the family to time together in the heart of London. Must-see attractions such as Buckingham Palace, the Tate Museums, theatres, shopping, Hyde Park and Green Park, are all just steps away. Guests are entitled to use all of the spa facilities, which include complimentary use of the hotel’s fully equipped gymnasium, featuring the latest Technogym cardiovascular equipment. The gym is open 24-hours a day. The Spa is open daily from 9:30am to 8pm and offers guests a wide range of pampering treatments, including a selection of the most coveted advanced health and beauty treatments available, including three private therapy rooms that provide an ideal place to unwind, relax and indulge.

The package also includes a full English Breakfast for two adults and two children. If you’ve never had an English Breakfast, you’re in for a real surprise! The groaning sideboard features everything from a selection of hot and cold cereals to the famous ‘banger’ sausages and a parade of cured meats and smoked fish leading into omelets and other egg dishes, baked mushrooms, parsley potatoes, baked tomatoes, an assortment of cheeses and fruits and every type of tea or juice imaginable and some of the best coffee to be had anywhere with delicious cream, jams and butter and that only in England treasure, ‘clotted cream.’ I think I’ve just talked myself into another visit. I’ll see you there!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Herbie Hancock at Chicago Symphony Center:The Imagine Project

by Dwight Casimere

Those who witnessed Jazz at Symphony Center’s Special Concert with pianist Herbie Hancock and “the Imagine Project” watched a genius at work. The Grammy and Oscar-winning pianist, who hails from Chicago’s South Side, began his career as a child prodigy when he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the tender age of 11. He went on to make music history as a member of the legendary Miles Davis Quintet from the years 1963 through 1968 when he was still in his early 20s. The recordings from that landmark collaboration with Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Tony Williams (drums) and Davis on trumpet remain some of the seminal moments in Modern Jazz history, resulting in such groundbreaking recordings as ESP, Nefertiti and Sorcerer. Those recordings, in remastered form, remain to this day some of the most purchased albums in jazz history. Following his stint with Davis, he went on to a brilliant solo career, conquering, not only the concert stage, but the worlds of television and film as well, culminating in his Oscar-winning score for the film “ ‘Round Midnight”, in which he also played a pivotal role as an actor.

The Imagine Project is a “compilation in motion” of his wide-ranging career and includes musicians from 11 countries who speak 7 languages. On this night, the aggregation was a sextet, including guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, Africa, bassist Pino Palladino from Wales. Vocalist/violinist Kristina Train from Savannah, Georgia by way of New York City; drummer Vinnie Colaiuta from L.A. by way of Pennsylvania and fellow pianist and vocalist Greg Phillinganes from Detroit. A cadre of absent members, a drum troupe and singers from Central Africa and a quartet of guitarists from Northern Africa whom Hancock described as “dudes in long, flowing robes, Arab headdress who ride camels and play like James Brown”, joined the group via computer hard-drive audio tracks.

After some preliminary warm-up solos from drummer Claiuta and guitarist Loueke, Hancock strode casually on stage to thunderous applause and got things moving with his upbeat “Cantaloupe Island.”

At 70 years old, Hancock remains a protean force on the keyboard. His fluid melodic line and lyrical improvisation defy the basic laws of harmonic gravity.He, at times, shifts effortlessly between Chopin-like fingerings and hard-bop chord configurations and then glides into rock and soul exclamations that elicit rhythmic hand-clapping from the audience, making them part of the musical ensemble. His sense of timing is impeccable, knowing just when to hold back to allow the thundering Elvin Jones-inspired drum lines of Colaiuta to ring through or the tantalizing guitar riffs of Loueke to dance off the loudspeakers.

At one inspired moment, Hancock reached for a guitar-like keyboard contraption, called the Keytar, and began playing it while striding across the stage like a Rock Star. Some imaginative interplay between he and the guitarist added further spice.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when vocalist Train launched into the John Lennon classic “Imagine”, which is a musical touchstone for Hancock’s current project. Train, with her rich, lyrical contralto voice, hovered somewhere between the heartfelt soulfulness of Angela Bofill and the bright lyricism of Phoebe Snow. She combined that with a touch of the jazz sensibility of frequent Hancock collaborator and close friend Joni Mitchell. The accompanying recorded tracks of Hancock’s African collaborators made for a spine-chilling finale to the moving song.

Hancock then began playing some classically inspired musings on the piano that made me begin to stir in my seat until the notes began to weave a tapestry that revealed the beginning strains of his mega-hit “Maiden Voyage.”

Another tune that spoke volumes about the thinking behind “The Imagine Project” was Peter Gabriel’s composition “Don’t Give Up’ (which Gabriel sang at South African President Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute at Wembley Stadium in London), sung with the fervor of a spiritual by Train. The added vocal tracks from an African chorus, singing in the South African Xhosa ‘click’ language, brought the song to a hushed conclusion that bordered on reverence.

Hancock obliged the audience with a somewhat off-tempo version of “Watermelon Man” that didn’t quite fill the bill for me. Sometimes things just can’t be made different for the sake of difference.

Things quickly got back on track with a delightful intermingling of the West African band Tinariwen’s “Tamitant Tilay” interspersed with Bob Marley’s “Exodus”.

Hancock then introduced Train again to sing a ravishing solo of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, which Hancock explained was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’ Changin'.” Hancock also pointed out that Cook’s murder shortly before the song’s release made it an eerie prophecy of his impending doom. Things brightened once again with the funky “Chameleon” with a few audience members rising from their seats to clap and dance in time to the music.

I have some Cuban friends in Miami who practice the Shango religion of West Africa. At family feasts, they routinely set an empty ‘place’ at the table for their ancestors. There were several empty seats at the rear of the hall on this concert night. I wonder if Hancock reserved a few of them for his musical forebears, Miles, Monk and 'Trane. Their spirits were certainly evident during this magical performance.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Macy Gray rocks the "House" at Macy's Passport Glamorama 2010 Chicago

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Macy’s Chicago enlisted the superstar performance status of its near-namesake, Grammy Award-winning R&B and soul singer-songwriter Macy Gray to headline Macy’s Passport Presents Glamorama 2010. The extraordinary multi-media event, held at the Chicago Theatre, incorporated a dazzling multi-media mix of fashion, fantasy, music and magic to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.

“We plan to use the proceeds from this event to help build the largest Ronald McDonald House in the nation, right here in the Chicago area,” Macy’s Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Terry Lundgren declared in opening remarks to the show before a sell-out crowd.

Ronald McDonald House program provides a “home away from home” for families of children facing a serious medical crisis. It allows them to stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost. The Houses allow families to focus on the healing of their child without having to worry about where they can afford to stay or where their next meal will come from or where they will lay their head at night to rest.

Earlier in the evening, CEO Lundgren had an opportunity to meet the Herrick Family, one of the beneficiaries of the Ronald McDonald House program. “Without Ronald McDonald House, we would not have been able to function as a family during our child’s treatment,” Max Herrick declared.

Lundgren echoed their words, saying, “This was an easy decision for us to get involved. Macy’s donated more than 80 million dollars to charities across America last year, but there’s no charity that touches my heart like Ronald McDonald House does. My wife is on the board in the New York area and in the last three years, I’ve learned more about the work that they do by visiting the kids and their families frequently. So, I’ve seen the work that they do and I know first-hand the impact that they have. So this was an easy decision to support the work that they do here at the Chicago Ronald McDonald House.”

Macy Gray took an opportunity to visit with the Herrick family backstage before the show and expressed her enthusiasm about performing at the benefit. “Macy’s and the Ronald McDonald House have contacted me in the past about being involved. I must say that tonight’s performance is something that is coming from the heart. When you here me sing “I Try” and “Beauty in the World” tonight, you’ll understand the point I’m trying to make on their behalf.”

“This show was designed to blow people’s minds,” said opening segment designer Chris March, Bravo’s “Project Runway” Season 4 finalist, who designed this year’s opening segment and who previously worked on Glamorama 2005.

Event Chair Candace Jordan arrived at a pre-show news conference wearing her own bit of ‘Glamorama’, a dressed designed by her good friend Pamela Rowland, a local designer who was featured in this year’s “Couture and C”ocktails,” an event to benefit Joffrey Ballet. “This year’s theme is called “Magic Is Macy’s” and that’s exactly what we’re presenting here tonight. It’s fun to look at the fashions and hear the great music, but when you consider that this is all going to benefit the Ronald McDonald House and the great work they do to help families like the Herrick’s, that’s what really puts it over the top. The designers, the models, dancers and technical staff all put a lot into this show. They poured out their hearts for the Ronald McDonald House and that’s what comes across. This is going to be the ‘Show of Shows’ that’s going to just blow people away!”

The show accomplished exactly that with a cadre of top-flight runway models, dancers and aerial acrobatic artists against the backdrop of a 4D multi-media show that took audiences on a magic carpet ride around the globe and through the dimensions of time and space. Through the imaginative use of holograms and sensory surround experience, the audience was even exposed to a “real feel” snow and ice storm.

As with every Glamorama, this year’s extravaganza was all about the latest fashion. A dizzying array of haute couture along with some ‘not couture’ were paraded by a cadre of Supermodels against the backdrop of a 4 Dimensional show that literally enveloped the audience in sheets of sound and light, even a mock snow and rain storm.

Beginning with the prepped-out styles of Tommy Hilfiger and moving through the ‘flash and trash’ of Jean Paul Gaultier and the hip looks for Sportmax, and the smooth sophistication of Sonia Rykiel, Marc Jacobs and Issey Miyake, the fashion show moved seamlessly through genres and across vast swatches of time, space and locale, from the Seven Wonders of the World to the Gates of Heaven and the spiritual world beyond in a spectacular series of holograms.

Madonna and 13-year-old daughter Lourdes’ Material Girl collection drew the strongest audience response. The segment featured the multi-layered fashions on a pair of captivating pre-teen dancers gyrating before the larger than life image of The Material Girl herself, singing, what else, “Material”! Girl

Fashion Choreographer Myron Johnson, Dance Choreographer Brian Friedman and Lighting Director Michael Murnane of Foot Candles Lighting and Audio Director Pete Tidemann of Linear Velocity are to be commended for their outstanding work.

Young hit maker Eric Hutchinson opened the musical portion of the show with his hits “OK. It’s Alright With Me” with self-accompaniment on the electronic keyboard and “Rock&Roll” on the amplified acoustic guitar from his debut album “Sounds Like This.”

Macy Gray provided the thunderous finale with “Beauty In The World” from her Grammy-nominated new album, entitled “The Sellout”. Which dropped June 22.

The fantasy continued at the After Party on the 7th floor of Macy’s on State Street for a celebration that included dancers twirling glow-in-the-dark hula-hoops around their bodies while DJ Rex spun the hottest tracks. Guests were treated to a wonderland of gourmet treats and fantasy cocktail, including a candy garden filled with planted edibles.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Buick Remix showcases new Regal, GS sports sedan in Chicago

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Great wine, regal cocktails, fabulous art and a terrific new line of premium American cars made for a spectacular evening on Chicago’s Riverfront. The event was Buick Remix held on a beautiful summer’s night.

General Motors is leading the turnaround of the auto industry. The company is even edging toward a public stock offering, amid solidifying profits. A big part of that turnaround is being attributed to the Buick brand, particularly the Buick Enclave, a luxury seven-seat family passenger vehicle, which is showing an increase in sales and customer satisfaction.

With that news as a backdrop, Buick held a premiere event at Chicago’s River East Arts Center that more resembled an Opening Night After Party for the Chicago International Film Festival than a product launch for the new midsize 2011 Regal sport sedan.

Black Opal Cabernet and Chardonnay wine from Australia flowed as premium hors d’ oeuvres such as Kobe beef ‘sliders’, Maryland blue crab cakes and Mandarin duck crepes were passed by white-gloved servers. The wine was an appropriate culinary prelude because lent an impression of intrigue and sophistication to the occasion. Augustana provided the appropriate live musical mix of jazz, soul and samba.

The ‘Opal’ connection was not lost on this observer, because the 2011 Regal is based on the award-winning Opel Insignia—the 2009 European Car of the Year. The Regals’ development is rooted in Germany, where the globally led engineering team created the Insignia. The Insignia has garnered more than 31 prestigious awards and is the best-selling midsize sedan in Europe.

From the ‘oohs and aahs’ of the well-dressed crowd looking at the floor models of the 2010 Buick Lacrosse, the all new 2011 Regal, the Enclave and the GS Concept high-performance sports sedan, placed strategically showroom style around the party space, the impact was made with resounding authority. The comments about the flashy new car from everyone who say in its luxurious interior with leather and heated front seats and driver-selectable Interactive Drive Control System and perused its sleek lines with its longer wheelbase and standard 18” inch wheels.

Chris Ayotte, Regal Marketing Manager, was on hand to personally lead partygoers on an up-close-and-personal look at Buick’s latest, the GS show car high-performance vehicle.

“We decided to hold this Regal Remix event in Chicago to showcase Buick’s entire new portfolio. This is a way to reach out to the community and show them what what’s new with Buick. The highlight of this event is the GS concept that will be available sometime in the future. But, before that, there will also be a Turbo equipped version to be introduced sometime this year as a 2012 model. This is a great drivers car with every comfort that drivers expect from a luxury vehicle. “

Of the Buick Remix event, Ayotte said, “What a great way to get to know a new car. You get to sit in the car and look at it while you’re enjoying yourself, listening to some great music. You get to talk up your friends while also talking up Buick. It’s a perfect mix!”

While some revelers made their way to the outdoor deck to view the stunning skyline as the sun set over the Chicago River, others marveled at the luxury features of the new Buick cars. Chris Wellington of Streeterville was impressed by the roomy interior of the Buick Regal GS show car.

“I can’t wait until it comes out. I especially like fact that it has a lot of headroom in the back. I’m often the designated driver when I head out clubbin’ with my “Boyz” and usually it’s a little tight for them in the back. They all used to be basketball players. This one would make a comfy fit for them.”

Marquita Johnson of Bronzeville loved the sleek lines and deep luster of the 2011 Regal. “This is definitely a classy ride!” she exclaimed.

Michelle Bunker, Buick’s Communications Manager, summed it up best. “Buick Remix is a great way to get to know the new Buick up front and personal. We’ve got some great cars here and people seem to be enjoying a great evening.” As I downed another glass of Opal Cabernet and savored it along with the deliciously rich-tasting Kobe beef slider, I couldn’t have agreed more.