Concert Review: ‘Great Ladies of Swing’ by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Special Guest Dee Daniels

by Dianne Gebaueron
NY Theater Guide
January, 2016

Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell and jazz singer Dee Daniels made their triumphant returns to the Buffalo area this weekend, joining our very own Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with the Pops Series’ Great Ladies of Swing.  Over the course of the evening, this enjoyable jazz, swing, and blues-inspired program celebrated the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Peggy Lee.  Each selection was accompanied by finger snaps, toe taps, and snow jokes galore – and, of course, Daniels’ smooth, unique, rich vocals.

The evening kicked off with a rousing rendition of Higgins’ “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, with Daniels’ deep timbre, a wonderful addition to the BPO’s full swing sound.  Russell’s energetic, flamboyant conducting style swiftly led these fine musicians into the Peggy Lee arrangement of “Fever” – the BPO’s smooth, slow vamp prompting Daniels to announce “that’s real cool” before launching into the first verse.

Daniels continued to command the stage throughout the program, with the up-tempo “Sweet Georgia Brown”, a beautiful arrangement of “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)”, and an “Ella Fitzgerald Medley”.  Particularly shining in a moving rendition of “God Bless the Child”, she showed off her impressive skills on piano, as well as her wide vocal range with warm, low tones, riffs, and high belts.

The concert’s highlights continued during the second half of the program with the BPO and Daniels easily pulling off an unlikely mashup of faux-opera and the blues in Billie Holiday’s “Gimme A Pigfoot”.  Next was the quick-paced swing number “Makin’ Whoopee”, throughout which Daniels and Russell danced around and playfully quibbled about the correct pronunciation of “whoopee”.  The BPO and Russell then offered a powerful and soaring arrangement of Sondheim’s hit song “Send in the Clowns”, which accented Daniels’ gorgeous vocals and expressive power, emphasizing each note with a true feeling and meaning.  Ending the program was the exciting and soulful gospel tune “Bill Bailey”.

At the start of the concert, Daniels and Russell encouraged the audience to get into the groove with snapping fingers, tapping toes, and bopping heads.  Ultimately, with this timeless music, their shared goal was to have the audience leave Kleinhans feeling both uplifted and inspired.  Well, if the audience’s enthusiastic and long-lasting rounds of cheers and standing ovations are anything to go by – mission more than accomplished.