Jazz ensemble salutes Patsy Cline

  • A Moment in Time Orchestra will perform "Patsy Cline: Remembered" on Sunday at the Concord City Auditorium. Rick Bouthiette—Courtesy

  • A Moment in Time Orchestra will perform "Patsy Cline: Remembered" on Sunday at the Concord City Auditorium. Rick Bouthiette—Courtesy

  • A Moment in Time Orchestra will perform “Patsy Cline: Remembered” on Sunday at the Concord City Auditorium. Courtesy of Rick Bouthiette

  • A Moment in Time Orchestra will perform "Patsy Cline: Remembered" on Sunday at the  Concord City Auditorium. Rick Bouthiette—Courtesy

  • Liz Saunders will perform as a guest vocalist with the A Moment in Time Orchestra on Sunday for "Patsy Cline Remembered." —Courtesy

For the Monitor
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Can jazz musicians and country western music really get along? Apparently so.

A Moment in Time Orchestra, a 10-piece group comprised of members of the larger Capital Jazz Orchestra, will perform Patsy Cline: Remembered, featuring vocalist Liz Saunders at the Concord City Auditorium on Sunday at 4 p.m.

While the Capital Jazz Orchestra focuses on jazz, the AMIT Orchestra highlights great moments in American music outside the jazz genre.

Past AMIT performances include tributes to Glenn Miller, Bobby Darin, and the World War II-era music of the Greatest Generation. The music of Leonard Cohen will be featured in a show next year.

This time, the orchestra adds country music to its musical mosaic.

“I’m a firm believer that country music is a big part of American music,” said Clayton Poole, music director for both orchestras. “The Cline story intrigues me for several reasons.

“I view her as an innovator and trailblazer for what she accomplished, for women in country music, and for everything she did while she was alive. And it all happened with her being only 30 years old when she died,” he said. “She was at the pinnacle of her career when she passed away. It was very sad the way she ended, but she had a lot of firsts.”

Cline was the first female iconic country artist, Poole said.

She was the first female country music star to headline her own show, and was the first one to receive billing above the males stars she toured with.

And, she was one of the first crossover artists, even before Ray Charles did it, Poole said. Charles now gets a lot of recognition for his album in the early ’60s, where he went from rhythm and blues to country and western, but she was doing it before then.

She started out somewhat rock-a-billy, then became more country and western. Later, she moved toward pop and recorded her hits like “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy” with full string orchestras, giving singers like Patti Page and others in the pop vein a run for their money, Poole said. Cline’s hit “You Belong to Me” was originally recorded by Jo Stafford.

Cline influenced many singers that came after her, including Loretta Lynn, Dottie West and Linda Ronstadt.

After she died, her hits like “Sweet Dreams,” “Leavin’ on Your Mind” and “Faded Love” became posthumous Top 10 country hits. She became as big a success, if not more so, after she died than she was before, Poole said.

In 2010, Rolling Stone included Cline in its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time.

So, when it came to choosing a vocalist for the show, not just any singer would do.

“We couldn’t just pick someone who has a jazz background with no understanding of country and western music or of Patsy Cline,” Poole said. “Liz (Saunders) is extremely versatile – she sang with the jazz orchestra when they did the Glenn Miller tribute.”

“When she does Patsy Cline, she’s going to be singing in the country and western style, and she can do that. She’ll be perfect because she will approach it as Patsy Cline’s music and give it the same kind of interpretation.”

While Poole wants the audience to be aware of Cline’s accomplishments, the information won’t be presented as a lecture. He and Saunders will work it in through improvised exchanges throughout the concert.

“People are paying good money to come in, and they want to be entertained,” he said. “However, we also feel that it’s extremely important for the audience to understand the backstory on the music.

“Ideally what we like to do is have her spirit in the room with us. We talk about who she was as a person, where she was when she sang a particular song, what her thoughts were, those kinds of things.”

Saunders shares this view.

“After you learn about her and listen to the music again,” she said, “It’s a whole different feeling. It’s not just music anymore – it’s a story.”

Saunders has performed tributes to Cline, as well as to Patti Page and Connie Francis, many times. While she has sung nearly every genre of music during her career, she has long had a special affinity for Cline, and country music in general.

“My dad was from Tupelo, Miss.,” she said, “so I always had a little bit of southern in me. I grew up with the music of Johnny Cash and all these great country artists. It’s kind of a cool thing to bring it all together.”

She recalled that at around age 12, she and a friend were listening to Patsy Cline records.

“We were both singing into hairbrushes, pretending that they were microphones,” she said. “Even though we were young, there was something in those songs that we really liked, that tugged at our heartstrings.”

In their tribute shows, the orchestra uses the original arrangements and plays their take on the music of that person, Poole said, but both he and Saunders emphasize that the performance is not an impersonation of Cline.

“We’re celebrating Cline’s music and paying tribute to her,” Poole said. “We’re not trying to impersonate her with the black wig and bright red lipstick.”

Poole said he thinks that people who see an impersonation leave a little unfulfilled.

“The reality is, you’re never going to hear Frank Sinatra,” he said. “You’re never going to hear Patsy Cline. You’re never going to hear Bobby Darin. They’re gone.

“We don’t want to have our audiences disappointed,
Poole said. The orchestra wants them to enjoy the show, be entertained, learn a lot about that person and hear the music and arrangements that they’re familiar with.

“That in and of itself is paying huge tribute to the artist. This was their music, and the audience is hearing a new take on their music. So in a way, the music never dies. It’s still alive, it’s a fresh hearing of the music, versus trying to somehow bring them back from the dead,” he said.

That said, though, Saunders does give thought to what she wears.

For the first half of the show, she’ll wear a dress that she reworked for a cowgirl look to represent the early part of Cline’s career.

Cline became more glamorous and more stylish later on, so, while the music won’t be presented in chronological order, Saunders is going to wear a long, black, sparkly gown for the second half of the show.

“I’m not going to try to look like her,” she said. “I might wear the red lipstick, though.”

Despite its name, this is not a local orchestra, although Poole, his son, drummer C.J. Poole, and guitarist Paul Bourgelais are from Concord.

“The musicians are people I’ve worked with over the years,” Poole said, “and come from all over the country. Their backgrounds are quite illustrious.”

For example, pianist and arranger Jerry Ascione wrote music and arrangements for the 2016 Oscar ceremonies.

“Reed 3” Scott Mullett has toured and performed with Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, Donna Summer, Norah Jones, Woody Herman, Lou Rawls, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett.

Capitaljazzorchestra.com chronicles the vast experience and level of professionalism of the musicians.

“These guys are the best of the best,” Poole said, “the first-call players all along the eastern seaboard. In 2013, this orchestra toured in 16 cities along the East Coast all the way down to Florida, and played to packed houses.”

Poole, who founded the orchestra, has worked with music legends Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Dionne Warwick, Bucky Pizzarelli, Delfeo Marsalis and many others.

The musicians don’t have, or need, much time to practice. There is only one rehearsal, the morning of the performance, where they read the music for the first time and play it together as an orchestra. Saunders will rehearse with the orchestra for the first time that day, too.

“You have to get the best from around the country to be able to do that,” Poole said.

People usually have to travel to New York or Chicago to see a show of this caliber, Poole said. Conversely, music lovers have even traveled to Concord from as far away as Florida to attend the orchestra’s performances.

“The irony is we’re doing this right here in Concord, New Hampshire,” he said, “and a lot of local people don’t even know it’s here. It’s a wonderful thing for the local community to experience.”