Disney Hall concert surprises a freshman working on his final

Jacob Ellenhorn, 9th Grade

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Knowing that it was for a class and knowing that I yawn at the mere mention of classical music, my Concert Report for Music Appreciation seemed like something I would never complete. But with the due date looming, I finally gave in and agreed to attend a New Year’s Eve performance of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Walt Disney Concert Hall. I don’t know how you spent New Year’s Eve, but as it turns out, I had a great time.

 New Year’s Eve proved the ideal time to see the group, which blends big band with a dash of swing and a raucous jolt of energy. The crowd was my first clue that this evening would be completely wicked. The concertgoers were a cross-section of Angelinos: upstanding Westsider types, cool cats dressed in pinstripe Zoot suits complete with fedoras and with their girlfriends in fishnets, and some tattooed and pierced types. And then there was me. I was the lone teenager in the crowd that came to watch guitarist Scotty Morris and his band do their thing.

            That night they were paying tribute to the American Jazz singer, Cab Calloway. I am somewhat familiar with Cab’s music. My parents never read the “how to raise a baby guide,” and therefore they never played “baby” music for my younger siblings and me. Instead, we grew up listening to whatever they liked to listen to. We never knew that kids were supposed to listen to kids’ music until we found ourselves buckled into the car seats of our friends’ minivans. My friends listened to good toddler age-appropriate stuff like Rafi, Sesame Street, and Classic Barney the Dinosaur.

            Instead, Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano,” a gazillion versions of “Besame Mucho,” Cab Calloway’s music, Mettalica, Johannes Brahms, and retro Russian pop music was pretty much the stuff I was raised on. Now that I am older, I am able to express coherent opinions, and have done so often. Cab’s music was never something I wanted to listen to. When his song “Minnie the Moocher” came up on my mom’s iPod, I would skip it. On a scale of 1 to 10, jazz ranks as a solid 5, just slightly above classical music which is a 2 or 3. So to sum up the point of the two previous paragraphs — the evening was beginning to look miserable. 

            Nevertheless, at the concert I reminded myself that the real reason for being at Disney Hall was to write a report on it for my Music Appreciation final, so I started paying attention. 

An enormous silver paneled building off the 101 freeway, Frank Gehry designed the Disney Concert Hall to be seen. For those who do not know, Disney Hall is the shiny building in downtown Los Angeles, home to our city’s philharmonic orchestra. It stretches up a full block on the top of Bunker Hill, opposite the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The structure is quite impressive because it is totally non linear and non right-angled. In his review for Slate magazine, architecture critic Chris Hawthorne describes how the façade “soars, bends, and dives in a number of directions.” The interior of Disney Concert Hall is equally impressive with the walls and ceiling lined in Douglas fir.

It was almost time for the performance to begin. Certainly, the fact that it was New Year’s Eve had something to do with the fact that the excitement level was off the charts. But I guess the crowd was really looking forward to hearing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy too. What struck me was the fact that Disney Concert Hall was, after all, home to a symphony orchestra, yet here were Big Bad Voodoo Daddy fans. 

My seat was off to the side and quite a distance from the stage, but it still offered a good view of the entire auditorium: a wide rectangle whose layered and concave walls swoop out. The ceiling is suspended like a sail (I know it’s been said before) and billows so it can reflect sound. Looking around, I did not notice any private boxes and kind of chuckled at this irony. Gehry protested elitism by not including private boxes in his design of Walt Disney Hall, yet how many non-elite type can afford to frequent it?

The band began precisely at 7:00 p.m. Morris dressed in an outfit Jessica Rabbit would find irresistible, and started the evening singing a bunch of upbeat, rambunctious pieces, including “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” “I Wanna Be Just Like You,” and “Christmas is Starting Now.” When the band played “Go Daddy-O,” it was really hard not to wish there was a dance floor. Not that I’m a dancer, but frankly, I was hearing more people tapping than I wanted to. Morris and his threesome of dancers picked up on my discontent just in time. I was just about to ask the annoying tapper next to me to politely fall into a coma when the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy dancers somehow managed to encourage the crowd to clap along, head bop, and tap-tap-tap, Scotty Morris style.

And then, later in the evening, came my favorite piece: “Minnie the Moocher.” The acoustics of the Disney Concert Hall added such sultriness to the sound of the saxophone that I felt inappropriately underage. Originally written and performed by Calloway in 1931, “Minnie the Moocher” is still a controversial piece of music because of the lyrics, “… She messed around with a bloke named Smokey. . . even though he was a cokey . . .” Not only does the song have references to illicit drug use, but it’s very title suggests that Minnie is mooching money and drugs from men in return for intimacy.

The audience also enjoyed Calloway-inspired call-and-responses which became so long and complex that the results were failed yet hilarious attempts to repeat them back at him. Morris was both soulful and playful, and now there’s no way I will skip this version on my iPod! 

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was truly acoustical nirvana! I’ve never ended the year on a better note.

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