"L" is for the way they look at you, "O" is for the orchestra you can still see, "V" is a band so very extraordinary and "E" is even more than you could ever have seen before.
And on and on singer Robert Johnson sang the swooning, love-filled songs of Nat King Cole at the Lakewood Cultural Center, thanks to the Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra. Their set was the band missing from your Valentine’s Day dinner, and the expression of the loneliness felt by those who didn’t have one.
Focusing on Cole’s short-lived show on NBC in the '50s for inspiration, Robert Johnson and the CJRO brought to life the variations that Cole played on the show, like a cover of "Fly Me to the Moon" that Cole sang with Ella Fitzgerald.
“What I always try to do when I do these tunes in particular, I really want to put it in as close to the context of what he did with his own little trio,” Johnson told the Jeffco Transcript. And he did, joking he’d try his best to channel both Fitzgerald and Cole for the song.
Not long after, he bellowed out "Ain’t Misbehavin'," making full use of his baritone voice and channeling Louis Armstrong on Cole’s show.
But teasing out the rhythms and freedom of the tunes were, of course, the orchestra itself, which for the concert consisted of Eric Gunnison on the keys, Mike Abbott on a sharply muted guitar, Bijoux Barbosa on the bass, and Mike Marlier on drums.
The epitome of jazz at the time — bass, guitar and keys — the orchestra added drums for the show as it wasn’t much longer until it became a jazz staple as well, and when “jazz got good,” Marlier joked.
Hearing these rhythms and seeing them are vastly different.
“I started this group as a cleanse for every bad musical experience I’ve ever had,” Founder and Executive Director of CJRO Art Bouton said. “The goal was to create the finest music with the finest musicians, and then pay them for rehearsals and for the gigs, and treat everybody with respect.”
And he succeeded.
The silent, professional communication between the players and their tunes gave the songs the sharp suspense and smoothness they needed to convince of their passion, their emotion. Not ignoring an instrumental song where each player brought out a solo that really rocked the theater.
And they aren’t done, either.
March 4 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, and March 5 at Lone Tree Arts Center will both host "Compared to What," CJRO’s premiere of their original album featuring Robert Johnson again and Marion Powers.
Tickets can be found online at coloradojazz.org/concerts