Photo Credit: Kevin Alvey
THE TEDD FIRTH TRIO
@ BIRDLAND THEATER
FINALLY! Tedd Firth, the genius Musical Director to the Stars, gets his time in the spotlight! And, what a time it was! Doing an 11-song set, 3 of them with guest star Brian Stokes Mitchell, with the remarkable, world renowned bass player David Finck, and equally wonderful Mark McLean on percussion, this was a night to be remembered! In the presence of one of the finest trios I have ever had the honor of hearing, it is so nice to let music be the star of the show!
Disclaimer: I have known Firth since he was in his 20’s and have been a fan of his from day one. However, putting that aside, and attending this show solely as a reviewer…as someone who loves music…it was just amazing to see someone you’ve long respected have their night!
Most of his repertoire were familiar standards or jazz tunes with a few show tunes that have become jazz standards thrown in. Songs by composers: Stevie Wonder, Harry Warren, David Shire, Irving Berlin, Bart Howard, Frank Loesser and many more, were all fantastic!
Their rendition of “Starting Here, Starting Now” (Richard Maltby & David Shire) was a stunning arrangement which featured David Finck’s impressive arco work and Mark McLean’s “tasty” percussion on a soft bossa-feel.
When any musician plays sans vocals, the best of them play with full knowledge of the lyrics so, their musical interpretations feel like you are hearing the words with all the emotion and (to use a “Cabaret” word) connection to the song as if someone was actually singing the lyrics. Several times I caught myself just putting my pen down and taking in the music.
An example of this was given so beautifully in their rendition of that late John Wallowitch’s “Come a Little Closer” paired with Mickey Leonard’s “The Kind of Man a Woman Needs.” Sometimes the shear beauty of sound makes me well-up and I could “hear” these words through Firth’s playing as clearly as if someone were singing.
An additional surprise for me was what an incredible host Firth has become. While normally a pretty-soft spoken man, with a funny, dry sense of humor, he is not one who usually wants to be in the spotlight. As a host, however, he was engaging, funny, informative and gracious!
For the run of the show, Firth had several amazing guest stars. On the night I attended it was the wonderful Brian Stokes Mitchell. Mitchell related to us how he met Firth in 2007 and was, at first, reluctant to accept that this young man before him would become his Musical Director, co-arranger and friend for the next 12 years.
They entertained with an incredible version of “There’s No Business, Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin) which started out as this crazy Circe du Soli feel into 4/4 then into a waltz and back to 4/4…it was AWESOME! They then did “It Amazes Me” (Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh) with Firth setting the mood in a mini-solo at the top of the tune. For the records, no one honors space in a tune like Mitchell. He really knows how to let a song breathe! Stunning! Mitchell’s set ended with an arrangement (that was not co-written with Firth), a sexy, male hooker version of, “Love for Sale” (Cole Porter) which, again, featured Firth’s rapid playing chops on the solo. What a fun set!
Firth is his own kind of player but his playing brings to mind all the greats of our time, most notably, Oscar Peterson. His rapid licks are precise and harmonically realized very much in the vein of how Oscar would play. We found out later in the show that Oscar was one of Firth’s inspirations, so I’m not surprised that I had made this note before he announced this.
All I can say in closing is, Oscar Peterson, Mike Renzi, Dave Grusin and Fred Hersch…move over and make space in your club for a new prodigy and voice of our time…Tedd Firth!