East Penn Press

Saturday, April 4, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSimon Mulligan, piano, performed a romantic “Jazz Upstairs” concert for Valentine’s Day. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSimon Mulligan, piano, performed a romantic “Jazz Upstairs” concert for Valentine’s Day.

Concert Review: Simon Mulligan elegant in ‘Jazz Upstairs’

Thursday, February 20, 2020 by DAVE HOWELL Special to The Press in Focus

Nothing is musically more elegant than the Simon Mulligan Trio.

On Valentine’s Day night, in the Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, Mulligan, piano; Gene Perla, upright bass, and Dave Willard, drums, did a show of romantic standards from the Great American Songbook.

The members of the trio were stylishly-attired in black for their seventh appearance in the room. Mulligan noted that for the Feb. 14 concert, red might have been more appropriate.

Mulligan said he had arrived from New York City’s Grand Central Station, where he performed for a couple who had won a raffle, and had dinner at 2:30 a.m. when the station was closed.

In the “Jazz Upstairs” concert, Mulligan took familiar tunes like “Fly Me to the Moon” and reworked them, weaving alternate melodies around the chords and adding flourishes.

On most of the numbers, he began slowly and hinted at the main melody. It took a minute or so to recognize a song’s melody.

Perla took short solos on most of the tunes. His strong pulls and slide work belied the fact he will 80-years-old in March, which he announced in the concert’s second half.

Willard played with understated but intricate fills, sometimes doing solos for a few bars.

Mulligan said that Fats Waller was a favorite of his when he grew up in England. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” started out on a pensive note and moved to a gentle swing. “Honeysuckle Rose” had a few classical sounding arpeggios. “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” had sophisticated jazz flourishes. Mulligan said the latter was played in D flat Major instead of C, because the cassette tape he learned it from played at a faster speed.

His partner, Jacqueline Milena Thompson, joined him for vocals on “It Had to Be You,” with his son Justin taking over on drums.

Mulligan went solo for a beautiful melodic take on “Lucky to Be Me,” from Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.” The first half ended with a lively “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).”

In the second half of the concert, Mulligan took another solo turn with a medley from “West Side Story.” He made listeners recall the vocal parts while adding grace notes, emphasizing the drama in the Broadway musical.

After “How High the Moon,” a melancholy and thoughtful “Blue Skies,” and the bossa nova, “The Girl From Ipanema,” Thompson came back for vocals on “The Man I Love.”

The following “My Funny Valentine” was pretty much obligatory.

Mulligan ended the well-received concert with two originals. “Miss Me” managed to be upbeat and wistful. “Sassafras” was a rhythmic number that at times suggested both New Orleans and Latin beats.