By Fotini Stephen
(NEW YORK, NY) – I once thought that the opera concert was pretty much the top ticket of the free outdoor Verdi Square concert series held on three successive Sundays in New York City’s Verdi Square Park. Having attended the Verdi Square jazz concert recently, I now have an enhanced appreciation of the Verdi Square concert series in general and of jazz music in particular.
The Verdi Square concert series is organized by a group of Manhattan Upper West side residents interested in supporting emerging artists. The founding member and leader of the group is George Litton, a very feisty octogenarian who loves the arts, drinking dry, well made gin martinis (the Central Park South Ritz-Carlton comes to mind as one of his favourite haunts), and having a good time with people that he considers interesting.
George’s approach to life would put most 40 year-olds to shame when it comes to joie de vivre and overall energy and enthusiasm; George is at the head of the line.
Each year, the three part concert schedule focuses on emerging artists, from arts schools primarily in NYC, who are seeking to establish a career in classical, opera, or jazz music.
These very accomplished emerging young artists, many of whom will be the stars of the future music scene, are grateful for the opportunity to play before live audiences. The audience, in turn, is fortunate to see and hear these talented artists perform their music.
The 2014 season ended on September 28 with a wonderful jazz concert performed by the fabulous Dan Raney Quartet, consisting of Travis Bliss on saxophone, Paul Bloom on piano, Dan Raney on bass, and Connor Baker on drums; all from the New England Conservatory, which was founded in 1867 and is the oldest independent music school in the United States. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC graduates.
The Dan Raney Quartet started off with the classic Yes or No by Wayne Shorter, composed in 1933, then moved on to When Will the Blues Leave by Ornette Coleman, Anthropology by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Some Day My Prince Will Come by Frank Churchill, The Night has a Thousand Eyes by Jerry Brainin, arranged by the great John Coltrane, Mr PC by John Coltrane, Blue Daniel by Frank Rosolino and arranged by Cannonball Adderley, and ended with the wonderful It Could Happen to You by Jimmy Van Heusen.
The audience seemed to enjoy each and every piece played by the quartet and the applause was plentiful, both during the performance at the conclusion of a particularly difficult and enjoyable solo, and also at the end of each tune. Of course the crowd was demonstrating its appreciation for the wonderful Dan Raney Quartet but there may have been an additional reason for the exuberance of many in the audience who were going to be attending the by invitation only after party for the Quartet.
This cast party is intended to introduce the emerging artists to a kind of whose who within the NYC artistic community. However, this year, the party would also include the dedication of an Upper West side annual George Litton appreciation day and the celebration of George’s 80th birthday. The cast/birthday party was very capably organized by George’s, and he would want me to say this, much younger girlfriend Alessandra.
Upon entering the venue, a local restaurant which was closed off for the evening, the entire ceiling was covered in blue balloons and on the wall in inflatable silver balloons, spread across the stylish brick walls, was written Happy 80th Birthday George.
The guests, which included intriguing people of all ages and walks of life, consisted primarily of artistic people from the Upper West Side and some from the Upper East Side, as well and one Torontonian who makes an annual pilgrimage to the Verdi Square concerts and to visit with the delightful George and Alessandra.
In his very brief birthday speech, George explained that he comes from a Russian background, lived with his parents in Paris, and settled with his parents in the Upper West Side where he has been ever since, although in a slightly different apartment. George went to Yale, where he started the Russian Course musical group and returned to NYC to work in real estate.
Many of us know this about George, but what we also know about this kind and generous person, and what is key to his exuberant approach to life and perhaps the success of the Verdi Square concerts, is that he has always had an interest in a mix of fascinating people of all ages.
As George explained he, “does not bother with boring people.”