Selected Miscellaneous Shows

N. Bethesda, MD, US
Music Center at Strathmore
Sting and Paul Simon deviate from script at benefit show for Duke Ellington School...

Paul Simon and Sting have spent a good part of the winter on stages together. By reputation, to find a roadshow packed with more ego you'd have to go back to, well, a Simon and Garfunkel tour.

But these two folk/pop/new-wave/world-beat legends, who have about 135 years and record sales in the hundreds of millions between them, checked their self-importance at the door at Strathmore Music Hall on Wednesday. Simon and Sting abbreviated and deviated from their standard act for charity, specifically to help raise funds for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The high-wattage bill in the ornate but intimate hall was supposed to pack even more power: An Ellington official announced from the stage just before showtime that Stevie Wonder, who was listed on the cover of the concert's program, backed out at the last minute because of a death in the family. The official said the event raised $1.2 million for the public school, a training ground for young entertainers and artists that opened in Georgetown in 1974.

On a typical show on this tour, Simon and Sting have shared the spotlight almost equally. But at Strathmore, Simon, now 72 1/2 years old, seemed quite comfortable letting Sting, 10 years his junior, dominate a set that lasted approximately 80 minutes, much of which Simon spent backstage. Ellington's orchestra and choir supplemented the headliners' regular touring quintet for most of the evening. Whenever Simon ambled out from the wings, Sting appeared happy just to be close to him. Both performers oozed genuine glee during an early-in-the-evening duet on Simon's "The Boxer."

But even when Simon wasn't standing beside him, Sting expressed reverence for his touring partner again and again. He called Simon a "mentor" before giving a Simon-less reprise of Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 gem "America." And while turning over the stage to Simon to sing Sting's "Fragile," Sting said that the tour rules allow him and Simon to "take ownership of each other's songs. "I think I got a better deal," Sting added. That's not a level of humility one would expect from a guy even Simon Cowell tagged as pompous.

The graciousness the professional performers showed to the kids sitting in with them added more sweetness to the proceedings. During a rocking version of the Police's "Every Breath You Take," Sting's guitarist, Dominic Miller, walked to the very back of the stage to coax a young shredder from the Ellington orchestra to join him up front.

And while Sting has been handling the harder vocal parts of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" all tour, on this night he and Simon stood together silently in front of the drum riser and let the Ellington choir wow the house with an a cappella but wholly electric take on the climactic verse, followed by an up-tempo, gospel-ish rewrite of the song's chorus.

"What are you guys doing tomorrow?" Sting asked his ad hoc amateur backups. None of the kids answered. Simon and Sting resume their tour Thursday at the Verizon Center.

(c) The Washington Post by Dave McKenna

Sting and Paul Simon perform benefit concert at the Strathmore...

The pouring rain didn't stop the money from pouring in. And the party tent that partially collapsed during the VIP reception? That didn't dampen the mood (well, not by much) either.

"This is the most successful benefit we've had since 1994," said Peggy Cooper Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts which raised $1.2 million through its annual "Performance Series of Legends" benefit concert at the Strathmore on Wednesday night amid unruly weather and equally unpredictable rock star schedules. Stevie Wonder, who was scheduled to perform alongside headliner Sting and his "very special guest" Paul Simon, wouldn't be in the building. Wonder had to fly to Michigan because of a death in the family.

The disappointment was palpable during the pre-concert reception where whispers of "Stevie isn't coming," and "I hear someone got hurt" abounded over heavy plates of macaroni and cheese. "But we still have Sting!" chimed in Cooper Cafritz, whose date for the night, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was surprised the young crowd could rattle off Sting and Paul Simon hits, "Nooo, you're too young."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said he was looking forward to the headliners' musical performance - but he was just as excited to hear the kids who could go on to be megastars in their own right. "A lot of kids who go through Ellington go on to be great successes," he said. "Basically, I'm a big fan."

Once folks got over the fact that Wonder was elsewhere, the difficult task of rocking out with Sting, Simon and a group of impossibly talented high school students got under way.

Dressed in leather leggings too tight for men a third his age but just right for a rock star, 62-year-old Sting began with the 80s classic "Englishman in New York" and the Duke Ellington School's choir filled in as backup. "What are you guys doing tomorrow night?" he joked afterward. The crowd didn't wait long for Sting to introduce his "great friend, teacher and mentor" Simon. The cellphones came out when the two sang Sting's "Brand New Day" and then Simon's "The Boxer."

But the nostalgia couldn't run completely wild, reined in as it was by an a cappella rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by the Duke Ellington School's choir that literally took everyone's breath away. It would have overshadowed Sting's closing classic "Every Breath You Take" if not for students continuing to sing their hearts out in the background. A place most of them shouldn't get used to.

(c) The Washington Post by Helena Andrews

Sting, Simon, Ellington Students: Magical Night at Strathmore...

I was coming home in a cab to get ready to attend the annual Series of Legends concert to benefit the Duke Ellington School of the Arts at the Music Center of Strathmore, featuring rock-pop legends Sting and Paul Simon yesterday.

Guess what was playing on the cab radio?

"Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by you know who. And if you don't, too bad for you. I thought, what could possibly go wrong? The answer to that question is the tag line to the story about the woman who once come up to the late uber-movie star Cary Grant, known for his eye-candy smooth class, and asked: "Do you know what's wrong with you?" A quizzical Grant asked, "I don't know, what?" ‘'Absolutely nothing."

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the night which was an affirmation for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the ongoing parade of gifted young artists - dancers, musicians, singers in groups and as individuals--for its co-founder (with Mike Malone) Peggy Cooper Cafritz, for an exhilarating demonstration of star power when it engages with and for a worthy cause, as Sting and Simon, who are touring together so ably showed.

This was a high-end fundraiser for the District's pre-eminent arts school, which will help fund the school's major renovation, with attendees filling the grand foyer of the Music Hall at Strathmore in a VIP reception and the acoustically renowned and beautifully designed hall for a stirring and few songs left unsung. The event raised at least $1.2 million for the high school at 35th and R Streets.

This was the Seventh Annual Performance Series of Legends fundraiser, which began in 2006 with comedian Dave Chappelle –an Ellington alum - headlining. Other stars that followed included another Ellington alumn, opera star Denyce Graves, Earth, Wind & Fire, Smokey Robinson and Patti LaBelle. Stevie Wonder was an early headliner, and he was scheduled to appear with Sting and Simon, but could not appear because of the death of a close relative.

That was just about the only sad note in an evening when donors, well wishers, media, culture mavens and politicians mingled in the grand foyer, the media at one point setting up a kind of Sting watch (can you call it a Sting sting?), until he appeared from the very VIP Comcast Circles Lounge with donors, smiling broadly and walking fast.

In the foyer, politicians and elected officials mingled and schmoozed - Democratic congressman Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, retiring Virginia congressman Jim Moran, and a raspy-voiced D.C. At-large Councilman David Catania, an independent, who had just announced that he would be running for mayor of D.C. in the November general election.

Inside, the night turned into something truly special, on a stage packed with the youthful talent of the Duke Ellington band and chorus, and guitarist Reilly Martin, who played with the verve that could give some of the pros on stage a run for their money.

Duke Ellington School CEO Rory Pullens, beaming with pride, announced, "You know what Sting said? He said those kids blew me away."

The kids were always there. They're these tumblers, that guitar player, the hand-clapping choir which achieved gospel tones, all the young girls and boys playing trumpets, oboes, flutes, the French horn, clarinets, drums, violins and such. Among them might be future stings, future song stylists, rappers, tap dancers, classical musicians, opera stars and jazz singers and players, rock and rollers and divas.

"We're in the presence of the future," Sting acknowledged, and then began a set, later joined by Simon, that erased any doubt that this might be one of those perfunctory, well-meaning musical efforts that would leave you parched for something better.

It doesn't get much better than this. With Duke Ellington student dancers, singers and musicians, setting the stage with "Demolition Man" and "Synchronicity."

Sting - aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Summer - looking lean and clean in dark-wear and precisely little left short hair, showed himself as the ever-growing and versatile stylist that he is, beginning with a crowd-pleasing "Englishman in New York," one of his first solo efforts after becoming a super-star with the 1980s group, "The Police." This one was - as is much of his work now - infused with world stylings and sounds, a little bit of Reggae, a little exotic, full of a wistful kind of bounce. He sang the Middle East-infused "Desert Rose" (some of it in Arabic), "Seven Days" and the classic Police song "Every Breath You Take." At one point, manically and a little maniacally beautiful with his playing, electric fiddle player Peter TIckell wowed the crowd into a standing ovation.

Out came Paul Simon, once of Simon and Garfunkel, the soulful inspiration of imagination for a generation of 60s outsiders - "Hello darkness my old friend" goes one song, "Mrs. Robinson….Jesus loves you more than you can know" - came out, small but casting a huge musical shadow. They sang the Simon and Garfunkel classic, "The Boxer." Simon then sang Sting's "Fragile."

"I suppose you know Paul and I are touring together," Sting said. (The two will be at the Verizon Center tonight.)

"I remember when we were just starting out, jumping into cars and playing half-empty bars all over America and loving it," he said and asked Simon to exit the stage. Sting sang Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and made it his own "… We've all come to look for America." He sang The Police's "Message in a Bottle" and everyone standing, dancing and singing.

Then, everyone came back on stage. They sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," one by one, and then with the Duke Ellington Chorus, and then Sting again taking a lyric, and making the song more robust, stirring, a little more brave.

And then, like you might have wanted, they closed it out with "Every Breath You Take." And everyone again was standing, dancing and singing.

Departing, I thought of the lyrics: "Everything you do is magic. Every little thing she does turns me on." The kids, Sting, Simon. Every little thing they did was: Magic.

(c) The Georgetowner by Gary Tischler