Little Theater hosts Modernistic Trio

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Front man, guitarist and singer Ted Powers tap dances. At left is Peter Bloom; at right is Dave Zox.

An excellent musical group from the Boston area, the Modernistic Trio, performed songs by George and Ira Gershwin at the Bloomfield Public Library, on April 6, as part of the monthly music series at that venue.

The 40-seat Little Theatre, located in the basement of the Children’s Library, was at half-capacity, a noteworthy occurrence for these Saturday afternoon, 60-minute performances. Usually a smaller number of people attend the library’s excellent and varied series. So pity the other half of the audience which did not arrive for this trio.

As one grateful listener said departing the theater, the library hit a home run.

The trio consists of front man Ted Powers playing guitar, harmonica, dancing tap and singing in a lovely tenor voice; flutist Peter Bloom and bassist Dave Zox.

“This is the coolest little theater we’ve worked in,” Powers said. “Wow.”

According to the program notes, Powers had notably played with Billy Novick and Ray Santisi, and danced with Jimmy “Sir Slyde” Mitchell. Novick and Santisi were also from New England and Mitchell, during the late ‘40s, was half of a well-known tap duo with James Godbolt.

Flutist Bloom has a 46-year career and is featured on 49 recordings and bassist Zox has played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Artie Shaw Band and teaches at Northeastern University.

Although a snippet of the earlier “Swanee” (1919) was heard, the playlist was from the ‘20s and ‘30s, George having died in 1937 and Ira in 1983. Compositions included pop standards “‘S Wonderful” (1927), “Love Is Here to Stay” (1937), “Someone To Watch Over Me” (1926) and “He Loves and She Loves” (1927) — 16 songs in all.

The stage banter was fun to hear, too, and it seemed the players enjoyed each other’s company. Powers introduced everyone.

“The last time we performed,” he said, “I was told I didn’t mention Peter (Bloom) enough. Well, he grew up in a toney suburb as a single, indulged child. More later.”

The audience ate it up and made to feel it was on easy and familiar terms with the group. “Love Is Here to Stay” was sung. It was written the year George died, Powers said, and was finished by Ira. Surprisingly, Powers, on guitar, began whistling the tune which he sometimes did on other songs, too. It was delightful.

“Someone To Watch Over Me” began with what seemed like a rumination: Zox bowing his double-bass, then the melody coming to life on Bloom’s flute, gently building and being perfectly opened by Powers’ voice and its tender request. In fact, there was something emotional, something hidden, about Powers’ voice. The wisp of a New England accent? He was a solo performer in the south of France for several years, but not that. Yet if you listened for it, it disappeared.

The audience was told that “Swanee” was written for a totally forgettable Broadway show titled “Demi-Tasse,” but was rescued by performer Al Jolson who recorded it and made it a hit. The royalties Gershwin received permitted him to work independently.

The lyrics to “Swanee” were written by Irving Caesar, who also wrote the lyrics to “Tea for Two,” with music by Vincent Youmans.

Powers sang “He Loves and She Loves.”

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful, lilting melody that I love,” he said, tapping his foot, giving the melody a gentle, lullaby sound.

Zox, always in the background, took center stage with an impressive solo for “Slap That Bass” (1937).

The concert had been scheduled by librarian Lisa Cohn. Ordinarily, the acts she books play music relating to a calendar event for the month. But this time, she said, the group’s manager, Rebecca DeLamotte, had contacted her and sent a video. Cohn thought they sounded pretty good.

DeLamotte, of American Musicworks, accompanied the trio to Bloomfield. In an interview with this newspaper, she said the Gershwins were selected because they created some of the most beautiful music in the American Songbook. And since the performance would be in a library, Ira Gershwin’s work as a poet would be heard.

“The trio has fallen in love with the Gershwins,” she said. “They are an endless wealth.”

Another featured show of the trio is “The ‘20s Roar.” This includes work by the Gershwins, Fats Waller, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and others.

“Ted Powers wears many hats,” DeLamotte said. “This allows for beautiful arrangements. It’s music people know, but in a compelling way.”

On Saturday, May 18, at 2 p.m., the BPL will present jazz harmonica performer Yvonnick Prené.