Friday, April 6, 2012

Van Dyke Parks in St. Louis

Van Dyke Parks played last night at the Luminary Center for the Arts in St. Louis with bassist Jim Cooper and percussionist Don Heffington. The three made beautiful music together. Here’s a set list, all compositions by Parks except as noted:

Jump! : Opportunity for Two : Come Along : Orange Crate Art : Delta Queen Waltz (John Hartford) : Danza (Louis Moreau Gottschalk) : Cowboy : Wings of a Dove : Sail Away : The All Golden

While the program is much as it was when I heard Parks in 2010 playing with members of Clare and the Reasons, a piano-bass-drums setting brings out different elements in these pieces. The 2010 performance was an elegant adventure in chamber music. Last night’s performance, while just as artful, was more driving, even swinging. What astonishes me again is that Parks is able to suggest the complex orchestrations of his recordings with relatively minimal instrumentation. My best analogy: the Modern Jazz Quartet’s For Ellington (1988), which conjured up an orchestra with piano, vibes, bass, and drums.

I know of no analogy for the mix of anecdotes, asides, one-liners, historical excursus, and plainspoken wisdom that VDP dispenses from the stage. One sample: “We live in a dark age. Now is the time to be forthright and beautiful and strong.” The audience, young and old, was listening.

Opening for Parks: The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra, playing an original score to accompany the Buster Keaton film The Balloonatic (1923). They were a delight.

The Luminary Center for the Arts, housed in a former Roman Catholic convent, is a great space for art and music. Van Dyke invited Elaine and me up to the green room before the show, a room that looked as if it might have been a reading room or TV room in convent days. Van Dyke, Don, Elaine, and I sat at a small square table. Present at various points in the conversation: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Elton John, Buster and Eleanor Keaton, John Steinbeck, and Gregg Toland, all sitting on the sofa with a sister or two.

Related posts
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (1)
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (2)
All Van Dyke Parks posts

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

He is an amazing performer, isn't he? I've seen him twice - once in 1999 with Leland Sklar and Grant Geissman on guitar and bass, and once last year with Clare And The Reasons and Ed Harcourt, and it's incredible how he can adapt his music to any set of instruments and performers and have it come out sounding like him. I'm going to see him in June with the Britten Sinfonia, which should be interesting.

Michael Leddy said...

Enjoy the June performance — that should really be something.