The air was chilly outside on the night of March 1, but the mood was hot inside Aeolian Hall under the spell of the Ortner-Roberts Duo. Under the banner of the JCC and Serenata Music, Tom Roberts, pianist, and his wife Suzanne Ortner, clarinetist, presented a spine-tingling fusion of klezmer and creole magic, creating a marriage of two traditions in which each retained its identity while becoming interwoven with the other.
Tom and Suzanne blend their musical passions. Their musical personalities are shaped by tastes formed early in life. Tom continues to enjoy a long and successful career as a jazz pianist, heralded at Carnegie Hall and the 92nd Street “Y” in New York, at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, in the movie Aviator and also in the great jazz capital, New Orleans. Suzanne comes to klezmer through the music scene in her native Germany, and more recently in Pittsburgh where she now lives. As a couple, Suzanne and Tom discovered the compatibilities of two highly charged idioms which they have coupled in an innovative concept.
It was thrilling to hear recreations of legendary tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington and equally meaningful to hear Nigunim played in the style of the old klezmer masters. Calypso by the Sephardic/Caribbe an composer Lionel Belasco and finger-teasing melodies by a half-Jewish, black, Harlem cantor/jazzman, Willie “the lion” Smith, added an exotic dimension to the program. The final piece, Meschugge Mekhutonim, a combination of a “freilach” and some Ellington tunes, summed up the essence of the evening â€“ music is a liberating and a unifying thing, freeing the emotions, bringing people together in the common cause of participating in a beautiful moment.