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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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