|Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant|
The jazz pianist Aaron Diehl posed a scenario Sunday afternoon during his two-hour set at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. What would’ve occurred had Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin crossed paths. The musicians never met, and although each was accomplished and prolific, their musical styles were different as night and day. Diehl believes if the legends had met there would’ve been a mutual respect of each other’s virtuosity. That is the impression Diehl left during his flawless presentation titled “Jelly and George,” which featured the Grammy-winning chanteuse Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Adam Birnbaum assuming the role of George Gershwin. The concert was a mixing of Morton’s and Gershwin’s compositions. The interesting thing was Diehl opted to play obscure materials from Morton and Gershwin. Diehl was gracious enough to warn the audience that if they expected to hear Morton’s and Gershwin’s popular material the audience was going to be disappointed. The concert opened with Diel and Birnbaum trading on Gershwin’s “Prelude One” and “Jelly Roll’s Blues.” Diehl’s quartet clarinetist Evan Christopher, trombonist Corey Wilcox, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers joined in on “Mississippi Mildred.” Listening to Diel and Birnbaum reinterpreting Morton’s and Gershwin’s obscure material was worth the price of admission, but what took the two-hour set over the top was Cecile McLorin Salvant. In a short time, Salvant has built a solid reputation as a foremost interpreter of the great American Songbook. Salvant isn’t big on stagecraft, but who gives a rat’s ass because her voice is so unbelievably beautiful it gives your soul goose bumps. Guaranteed people will awake tomorrow still thinking about Salvant’s rendering of “Wining Boy” and “Ask me Again.” Diehl’s lone moment in the sun came during his brilliant soloing on “Finger Breakers.” Diehl’s band was tight as banjo strings on “The Sidewalk Blues.” “Jelly and George” was prefect from top to bottom. Diehl and company present a lot of music, so an encore seemed overkill. The audience was so thoroughly worked up doubtfully they would’ve allowed the musicians to leave Ann Arbor had they refused an encore. As a gesture of appreciation for all the love the audience showed Diehl, he performed three additional tunes.