Jazz Reviews : Allen Brings Jazz, Wit, Wordplay to Ambassador

Steve Allen has long been the favorite comedian of many jazz players. It's not hard to understand why. His program at the Ambassador Auditorium Saturday night was a splendid example of the similarities of style and manner that link the Allen performance style with the unique energies of jazz.

His presentation--part stand-up routine, part lecture, part audience interchange, with a sprinkling of songs thrown in for seasoning--had the spontaneously impromptu vitality of a free and easy jazz improvisation.

Allen is, of course, the ultimate hyphenate, with a list of professional identities that includes monologuist, pianist, lyricist, composer, author, actor and television host (to name only a few). Bits and pieces of all those professions were brought to bear during the evening.

Questions from the audience were answered with typical Allen whimsy--a paraphrase on the name of a town here, a mercilessly quick pun there. His sometimes breathtakingly inventive circumlocutions of line and phrase recalled the way a jazz player twists and turns around a harmony, persistently seeking out the spirit and essence of a new melody.

Allen's piano playing and singing were, well, pleasant. He would undoubtedly be the last to describe himself as a major-league jazz musician, even though his songs (especially the almost too-familiar "This Could Be the Start of Something Big") always resonated with the vigor of jazz.

But Allen's program seemed to reflect the wise recognition on his part that it is the totality of what he does that makes his work so appealing. All the different Allen aspects--the intellectual curiosity, the love of wordplay, the uncluttered musical point of view, the incomparable wit--are facets in the total image of an entertainer whose creativity never seems to run dry.

The L.A. Jazz Choir, opening the program, sounded particularly attractive on pieces--"St. Louis Woman," "Mam'selle" and Milcho Leviev's lovely "Don's Song," in particular--which showcased its ability to create lush harmonies. But director Gerald Eskelin's overall choice of material seemed more heavily weighted toward bouncy swing numbers than jazz.

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