I didn’t think Gershwin could possibly sound any better than the way I remembered it, but last Wednesday’s Gershwin Across America show at the Hollywood Bowl made me reconsider that notion. Before I get into specifics, know this—I would pay to watch paint dry on the Bowl stage. Yep, that’s how much I love settling into seats there, glass of wine and sandwich (a.k.a. dinner) in hand, stars overhead. As Bowl nights go, Wednesday didn’t disappoint—pinky-purple sunset, full moon rising, air warmed by the late-summer breeze (kind of like the backdrop of a Gerswin musical, actually).
The upcoming CD Gershwin Across America was the inspiration for the show, which featured a fiercely talented big band orchestra, anchored by the Shelly Berg Trio, playing Gershwin hits while guests like Jason Mraz, Monica Mancini, BeBe Winans, Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent, above), and the indomitable Nancy Wilson sang. Standout numbers included Mancini’s rendition of But Not for Me while saxophonist Dave Koz serenaded her (“I got kinda jealous!” joked Mancini’s husband when he later took the stage to introduce another act) and Jason Mraz, who sang Blah, Blah, Blah, before explaining that Ira Gershwin had written the song (lyrics: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, moon/ Blah, blah, blah, above / Blah, blah, blah, blah, croon/ Blah, blah, blah, love”) in reaction to all the cliché love songs he’d heard. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening was Annie Clark’s rendition of It Ain’t Necessarily So, which she sang while strumming some sections on the guitar strapped high on her chest. Her interpretation—soulful, bluesey, almost euphoric—was a reminder that Gershwin melodies, while thoroughly throwback, are also totally timeless.