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Mike Greensill again ushers in a new season at Old First Concerts

Jazz pianist Mike Greensill
Jazz pianist Mike Greensill
courtesy of Old First Concerts

One of my favorite traditions in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church is the marking of the transition from the end of summer into the new concert season with a visit from jazz pianist and occasional crooner Mike Greensill. Traditionally, Greensill is joined by his wife, vocalist Wesla Whitfield, and a few other performers who happen to be available at the time. Yesterday afternoon was a trio gig with bassist Ruth Davies joining Greensill and Whitfield; and, as in the past, Whitfield did not appear until her wheelchair was lifted up to the Old First altar at the end of the intermission.

Greensill has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz masters of the twentieth century. He is particularly good at announcing every tune he plays and letting his audience know who the composer is, often adding a tidbit or two of background. For this particular concert most of the names were familiar, but he always manages to pull out one or two surprises. Yesterday’s major surprise was an introduction to Kenny Ball, one of the leading figures in a revival of traditional jazz in England that took place shortly before the emergence of the Beatles. Greensill played and sang Ball’s “So Do I,” which was recorded on the Pye label in 1962.

My own sense of jazz history was set into resonant vibration when Greensill and Whitfield sang a duet performance of “Mountain Greenery” as a tribute to Jackie [Cain] and Roy [Kral]. Whitfield claimed this was her first venture into scat. The scat passages were few, but listening to Greensill sing in unison with Whitfield’s scatting was more than a little impressive. Nevertheless, the overall tone of the program was a wistful one. Greensill even mentioned that he seemed to have pulled together selections with a preference for the minor key; and Whitfield’s winding up the program with “Some Other Time” (from Leonard Bernstein’s score for On the Town) came close to heartbreaking. Fortunately, there were a few doses of Dave Frishberg to keep things from getting too morose.