Wild Man Woody

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band. At the Lobero Theatre, Sunday, December 17.

Reviewed by Will Engel

Having once remarked that “80 percent of success is showing up,” this neurotic New Yorker did that and even more with his New Orleans jazz band on Sunday at the Lobero. Sure, it was clear at this show that wild man Woody Allen is not a technically brilliant clarinet player. However, he certainly does know his instrument, and the performance proved to be worth the hefty price of admission, since it was such a rare treat to see an artist of his caliber bring such a sincerely compulsive artistic passion to work that he so thoroughly enjoys.

Woody-2.jpgMusical director Eddy Davis played an impressive jazz banjo and led the seven-member band as they jammed on a variety of early 20th-century standards including blues, ragtime, hymns, and more. Even the set list was improvised, which added to the overall freshness of the performance. While Allen’s clarinet was solid, the band’s chemistry proved most musically rewarding, as they clearly relished their shared love of each and every phrasing. The evening peaked with the first encore, a rousing version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” with Eddy Davis on the vocals.

Allen, who plays with this band regularly on Monday nights at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, brought his own distinctive voice to the clarinet and, despite looking somewhat physically uncomfortable when he wasn’t performing, suddenly sprang to life for each of his impassioned solos. Allen’s clarinet playing also revealed something essential about his approach to film: it’s not just what he says — it’s how he says it. This rhythmic consciousness of delivery forms the foundation for Allen’s cinematic, philosophical, and comedic gifts.

As a comedian and filmmaker, Allen’s pitch-perfect sense of humor comes not only from his wit, but also from his nuanced sense of the precise rhythm and tone he achieves as he orchestrates the audience’s reaction. Like jazz, comedy is an improvisational art of interplay and interaction, riffing on familiar forms, playing off people’s expectations, creating a back-and-forth with the audience and with one’s fellow performers. Of course, no one does this better than Woody Allen, and Sunday night was no exception. In Annie Hall, Allen quotes the famous comment: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s too bad, because otherwise he just might have to make a new home here in Santa Barbara.

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