Sludging now, as we are, through the snow drifts and grey days of the mid-winter doldrums, I find it an appropriate moment to pull out my store of Christmas nostalgia and do a little reflecting on the highs of last year’s yuletide cheer. At the top of the list was a pre-Christmas show I had the pleasure to stumble upon, the yearly holiday fête known as Gotham Holiday Swing. Taking place at the swanky, historic Town Hall, it was a night of music, dance, song and storytelling that was nothing if not a fitting homage to the lavish celebrations of days long past.
The host for the evening was the endlessly charismatic Vince Giordano, bandleader extraordinaire of the Nighthawks Orchestra, a Grammy-winning orchestra dedicated to performing the music of the ’20s and ’30s, when big bands reigned. A true, old fashioned variety show, Giordano was at the top of his game, introducing the dizzying array of talent he had brought along for the evening, as they each came on stage in turn, or sometimes in pairs or trios, to perform holiday songs, both familiar and those pulled out of the vaults. In between, the Nighthawks did their thing as a boisterous, brilliant big band, each member remarkably talented on their own and in their swing as a collective, imitating and expanding on the greats.
I hesitate to name highlights based on the sheer fact that there wasn’t a disappointment in the bunch, but Kat Edmonson shined with her red velvet dress, pixie cut and classic, soulful voice which lent itself perfectly to romantic Christmas ballads of old. Argentinean vocalist Sofia Rei, percussionist and vocalist Pedrito Martinez, and trumpeter and jazz vocalist Bria Skonberg performed a rhythmic, syncopated version of “The Little Drummer” boy that was absolutely chill-inducing. The Xylopholks entertained in furry animal costumes with a surprise guest for a twist: a vocalist dressed as a Santa panda who performed a traditional song in Yiddish. Even Buster Poindexter, whiskey in hand and bowtie undone, was at his bawdy best with a calypso Christmas treat. To top it all off and round out the NPR contingent for the evening, I can now say I’ve seen Ira Glass perform a choreographed dance to “Sex Machine” after blowing up a balloon poodle and telling R-rated jokes.
A wildly entertaining night across the board, it was a true masterclass, not only in musical talent but in showmanship, and my only complaint was how reserved the audience stayed. Sure, there was applause and some cheers, but I, for one, could hardly stop myself from dancing in the aisles.
– Emily Gawlak