Barry has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications, including Epoch Times. He is a voting member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle, two organizations of theater critics that give awards at the end of each season. He has also been a member of NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association)
Latest by Barry Bassis
By Barry Bassis | August 25, 2015
The Metropolitan Opera is opening its season with Verdi’s “Otello.” Although it has been staged here for over a century, there will be one difference: The title character will not appear with dark makeup. The events of recent months, especially the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, and the protests about the Confederate flag, have had an impact.
While no one who saw Plácido Domingo or Jon Vickers play the Moor of Venice would mistake it for minstrelsy, still seeing Caucasian actors in blackface evokes a painful part of our history. Banishing the practice is sensible.
The opera will undoubtedly retain its dramatic and musical clout: The title role will be played by tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who was an intense …
By Barry Bassis | August 19, 2015
About a year ago, singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli received an offer he couldn’t refuse. A letter came in the mail from Sir Paul McCartney suggesting that Pizzarelli make an album of his post-Beatles songs, including some of his lesser known tunes, in a mellow jazz style. He even came up with the title—”Midnight McCartney.”
Sir Paul met Pizzarelli when they worked together on the 2012 album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” made up of songs from the 1930s and 1940s. Pizzarelli subsequently played guitar at some of McCartney’s high-profile appearances, such as the Grammy Awards. “Midnight McCartney” is now completed and Pizzarelli appeared at Birdland to celebrate the release.
With Pizzarelli, music is always a family affair. His brother Martin plays bass …
By Barry Bassis | August 5, 2015
Jazzman John Yao has been garnering acclaim for his big band, but why does he call it an “instrument”? In an exclusive interview with Epoch Times, he provided an explanation and discussed his career.
The idea came from Duke Ellington, who used to say that he thought of his big band as an instrument. Like Ellington, Yao often writes with specific players in mind. Another influence is Count Basie. Yao loved the sound of that historic ensemble “swinging together.”
While Yao’s style is not retro, he knows where the music has been and has a developing vision of where he wants to take it.
What makes his new CD, “Flip-Flop” (on See Tao Recordings), so exciting is that the music, …
By Barry Bassis | July 27, 2015
Sparks fly on “Alieva & Antonenko” (on Delos), a CD of arias and duets by Verdi, Puccini, and Tchaikovsky by two acclaimed young singers. The CD could be called Love and Death because all the operas end with tragedy.
Soprano Dinara Alieva was born in Azerbaijan and has sung at the Bolshoi as well as the Vienna State Opera, Frankfurt Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. She has also won a number of international competitions and appeared at Carnegie Hall. She studied with Montserrat Caballé, who described Alieva’s talent as a “gift of Heaven.”
One sign that Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has achieved stardom is the fact that he will play the title role in Verdi’s “Otello” for the opening night …
By Barry Bassis | July 13, 2015
The Jazz Standard was sold out for the album release party for Charenee Wade’s CD “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson” (on Motema). There were two apparent reasons: the performance of rising-star vocalist Wade and the material she performed on the CD and at the club—a collection of songs by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.
Wade is the genuine article—a singer of distinction as well as a songwriter and educator. She cites Sarah Vaughan as an influence and Dianne Reeves seems to be part of her musical DNA, especially in her scatting.
Scott-Heron’s work remains timely as long as the racial divide exists in America. He was singing about black lives mattering before the expression was coined.…
By Barry Bassis | July 5, 2015
Leslie Caron is, to the best of my knowledge, alive and well and living in Paris. Two of her most famous movie roles, in “An American in Paris” and in “Gigi,” came to Broadway this season. They could also be considered tributes to Vincente Minnelli (the director of both films) and Alan Jay Lerner (the screenwriter for the first and the lyricist/screenwriter for the second). Ironically, the men won Academy Awards each time; Caron didn’t.
The 1951 movie “An American in Paris” was an early example of a jukebox musical. Lerner created the story of a GI in postwar Paris (played by the great Gene Kelly) falling in love with a French dancer. All the music was by George Gershwin …
By Barry Bassis | July 5, 2015
When I go to a Shakespeare production, I pay attention to all the elements, as I would for any other play, but I especially listen to the language of our greatest playwright and poet.
For example, at the current Shakespeare in the Park production of “The Tempest,” Sam Waterston’s doddering Prospero was only fitfully effective and the beauty of the words was often lost. (To be fair, he sounded rather hoarse at the performance I attended.)
The gold standard for the handling of Shakespeare’s language is Sir John Gielgud (1904–2000). As Harold Bloom once noted in an Atlantic Unbound interview:
“I’ve seen only one Hamlet that immensely moved me. It was, of course, Sir John Gielgud. Somehow his gestures were …
By Barry Bassis | June 30, 2015
Appearing at Town Hall with a big band (featuring Billy Stritch on piano) and two backup singers, Natalie Cole managed to make the concert feel like an intimate event.
Whether performing her own hits or standards from the Great American Songbook, Cole proved that her singing is as good as ever. Whether crooning, scatting or swinging, she was in complete control. She also looked chic in a sparkly white top and black pants.
Cole started with the Peggy Lee hit “Fever” (mostly a duo between her sultry vocal and the acoustic bass) and segued in the middle into “Summertime.” She sounded girlish on the Ella Fitzgerald hit “A Tisket, A Tasket.” Cole paid homage to Dinah Washington with “What a …
By Barry Bassis | June 28, 2015
Producers Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta brought their semi-annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival back to the Birdland jazz club (315 W. 44th St.). This is the 16th year of the festival. Sponsor Air France flew most of the artists from Europe, and the band was supplemented each night by special guest artists. This is music that epitomizes swing and joie de vivre.
If this music doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.
The Belgian Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910–1953) is considered the first great jazz artist to come out of Europe. His group, the Hot Club of France, was co-led by violinist Stéphane Grappelli (1908–1997), who emerged as a full-fledged star on the international circuit after Django’s …
By Barry Bassis | June 21, 2015
American composer Aaron Jay Kernis has received many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The latest release of his music, the beguiling “Three Flavors” (on Naxos) is further evidence of his talent. Those who think they don’t like contemporary music should give this a try. Kernis’s work, usually labeled neo-romantic, is both eclectic and imaginative, suggesting his influences without descending into mimicry.
“Three Flavors” is a work for piano and orchestra. The soloist on the recording is Andrew Russo, who has long been a champion of Kernis’s music, and he is accompanied by the Albany Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Alan Miller.
Originally “Three Flavors” was written in 2002 as a concerto for an amplified toy piano, played by Margaret Leng …
By Barry Bassis | June 14, 2015
When you attend a Cheyenne Jackson concert, you not only learn the range of his vocal talent but also discover a lot about his life.
The natty Jackson first appeared in a white dinner jacket with a bow tie, later changing to a black jacket. His music was an eclectic mix of show tunes and pop hits from various eras. He started with “Stand by Me” and performed a number of songs that he had heard on recordings of jazz singers. From Ella Fitzgerald, he took “A Foggy Day” and from Diana Krall he appropriated her arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” The latter was done as a tribute to his mother, who exposed him to the singer-songwriters …
By Barry Bassis | June 14, 2015
Looking for a musical for the whole family that will not break the bank? The answer is Theatre East’s “Devil and the Deep,” a new musical retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s classic, “Treasure Island.”
The big name in the production is Graham Russell of Air Supply, who wrote the music and lyrics with Katie McGhie. Melissa Bell wrote the book and additional lyrics.
The show basically follows the plot of the novel, albeit with some modifications. Stevenson’s story, written for his stepson, omitted women except for Jim Hawkins’s mother. “Devil and the Deep” includes a number of female characters, one of whom is a pirate. The Playbill contains a history of women pirates as well as a glossary of …
By Barry Bassis | June 7, 2015
Gabriela Montero occupies a unique position in the music world. A classical artist who performs the core piano literature with leading orchestras around the world, she is also an intrepid improviser. At her concerts, she often asks the audience to suggest songs and she then plays them as baroque, romantic, or whatever style occurs to her at the moment.
Montero is also an outspoken critic of the corrupt government of her native country, Venezuela. Now based in the United States, Montero has won awards for her piano playing (including the International Chopin Piano Competition and the Rockefeller Award for her contributions to the arts) as well as her humanitarian efforts. She was recently named Honorary Consul by Amnesty International.
By Barry Bassis | May 31, 2015
Soprano Jessica Rivera has distinguished herself on the opera and concert stage with performances of classical music of the past and the present. She has performed works by contemporary composers John Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, Osvaldo Golijov, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Nico Muhly, among others.
An American of Peruvian descent, Rivera has just released a beautiful album (on Urtext Digital Classics) titled “Spanish-American Songs” with the outstanding pianist Mark Carver. They bring to light an important body of art songs that are not familiar to many classical music listeners in this country.
Rodolfo Halffter (1900–1987) was born in Spain but lived much of his life in Mexico. He comes from a distinguished musical family. His brother Ernesto was a composer as …
By Barry Bassis | May 24, 2015
New Orleans native Bryan Hymel became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when he stepped in to replace the tenor stars in the highly demanding role of Énée in Hector Berlioz’s “Les Troyens.” First, he filled in for Jonas Kaufmann at Covent Garden, and six months later in 2012, he took over the same role for Marcello Giordani at the Metropolitan Opera.
Among other awards, in 2013, he won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera and the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Artist Award.
Now, Warner Classics has released Hymel’s first solo debut for the label, “Héroïque: French Opera Arias,” and the tenor stakes out a repertoire in which he has little, if any, competition.
The CD …
By Barry Bassis | May 17, 2015
When you think of French popular music, the first name that comes to mind is Edith Piaf (1915-1963). “The Little Sparrow,” as she was called, is celebrated in RIOULT Dance NY’s world premiere of “STREET SINGER–Celebrating the Life of Edith Piaf.”
Choreographer Pascal Rioult has created and appears in a unique dance/theater piece. Broadway veteran Christine Andreas appears as Piaf, singing her songs (mostly in the original French, but sometimes adding the English versions) and portraying her with a French accent.
Wearing a copy of Piaf’s trademark black dress, she is magnificent. The performance would be worth attending just to enjoy her singing. However, there is much more.
Rioult wanted to present the work in a cabaret theater similar to …
By Barry Bassis | May 10, 2015
There are many famous sibling groups in jazz, and even identical twins (for example, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer E.J. Strickland), but Peter and Will Anderson are unusual in that they play the same instruments.
In Kyle Athayde’s large-scale work, “Reed Reflections,” which was written for them, they show their mastery of clarinets, flutes, and saxophones. (The work can be seen on YouTube at:
On their new CD, “Déjà Vu” and in “The Joy of Sax” (their recent live show at 59 East 59th Street Theaters), Peter played tenor sax and Will alto. Each of their outings is a fresh project with a different sound.
On the recording, the group is composed of Jeb Patton on …
By Barry Bassis | May 3, 2015
Igor Stravinsky’s opera, “The Rake’s Progress,” gets more respect than love from opera houses. The good news at the Metropolitan Opera is that the stunning Jonathan Miller production is back. The bad news is that it is running for only three performances and closes May 9.
The opera, which has a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, was inspired by a series of paintings by William Hogarth (1697–1764). Like the paintings, the opera presents the rise and fall of a weak-willed young man.
The Miller production moves the action to the 20th century, but the tale of corruption is just as relevant in the current Gilded Age. With politicians and secret service members caught with prostitutes, and massive …
By Barry Bassis | April 27, 2015
Mosaic is a label dedicated to high-quality reissues of jazz recordings. Its recently released box set, “The Complete Dial Masters,” documents the achievements of one of the most important independent labels, Dial Records, which was owned by Ross Russell (1909-2000).
Russell owned the Tempo Music Shop in L.A. and, when he started his own record label, he managed to document the young lions of the new bebop music. Not that it was an easy task, since the most important figure, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (aka “Bird”), abused both heroin and alcohol (which led to his death at age 34) and many of the others had similar problems.
Russell and the musicians at the sessions had to be flexible. In February …
By Barry Bassis | April 26, 2015
With Renée Fleming playing a narcissistic opera star, will “Living on Love” bring new audiences to opera? No, it’s not likely. More probably, the show will induce some opera fans to catch a famous soprano doing something completely different from her usual gig at opera houses, where her characters are usually dying for love. But they had better act soon because this vehicle is not sturdy enough for a long run.
“Living on Love” is derived from a 1985 comedy, “Peccadillo, by Garson Kanin. Though he wrote a number of famous screenplays (often with his wife, Ruth Gordon) and the Broadway hit “Born Yesterday” (which was also made into a successful movie), “Peccadillo” closed out of town. Now, Joe DiPietro …