February 17, 2013

The Second City: Laughing Matters

"I came out of the old Second City in Chicago. Chicago actors are more hard-nosed. They're tough on themselves and their fellow actors. They're self-demanding... you learned to make the other actor look good so you looked good."
 -Bill Murray

Is it me, or is it possible that the Mayans were onto something? Maybe they were off a couple of months on their calendar of doom, but things lately have been more in the realms clouds of doom and gloom. We've had North Korea testing nukes, meteors exploding over an impressively calm Russian populace, and the disaster that is the newest Die Hard movie. It bring to mind the end-of-the-world proclamations of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, "dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!"

Call me crazy, but I think we all could use a cold beer good chuckle. You know, something to serve as a friendly reminder that in these times, laughing matters.

Luckily for us, it's time to tap the keg of funny. The Paramount will be hosting The Second City, a Chicago-based improvisational team that has been providing laughs for over 50 years. Before The Groundlings, before The Upright Citizens Brigade, before Saturday Night Live, Second City was pioneering new comedy trails with its signature non-confomist spirit and satirical wit.

They have resident stages in Chicago and in Toronto, and in addition to their touring companies still entertain over one million people a year. If you're old enough, you may remember SCTV, a Canadian sketch comedy show like Saturday Night Live that served as a springboard for comedians the likes of John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and many others.

The Chicago company is also chock full of legendary alumni that has inspired awe by comedians young and old.

The first time I went to see a Second City show, I was in awe of everything. I just wanted to touch the same stage that Gilda Radner had walked on. It was sacred ground.
-Tina Fey 

The list of alumni is amazing, and their work has been the foundation for much of the comedy landscape we enjoy to this day. A great sense of humor is timeless, and the talents of these comedians will endure much longer than any Harlem Shake video or internet cat meme.

Amongst The Second City hall of fame are: Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Amy Sedaris, Steve Carell, Steven Colbert and Tina Fey.

When they arrive for their performances at The Paramount, the touring Second City ensemble will be
featuring some of the best sketches, songs, and improvisations from the Chicago group from the past five decades. No matter if its an archival gem or contemporary satire, it promises to be more entertaining than dashboard videos of meteors blazing across the skies and scaring the bejeebus out of us. It also will be funnier than the concept of Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck saving us from those meteors.  Why? Because The Second City intends to be funny.

Gather around and laugh at the face of our pending armageddon with the next generation of Second City legends. Enjoy them today, just in case a raging asteroid of death dictates that tomorrow never arrives. If so, I'd rather die laughing. So come on, you don't wanna miss a thing.

Catch The Second City on:

Wednesday, February 20th at 8:00 pm
Thursday, February 21st at 8:00 pm
Friday, February 22nd at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm
Saturday, February 23rd at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm

February 2, 2013

Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at The Lincoln Center

Jazz again takes a turn on the showcase of the Paramount stage, and this time the featured artist is Wynton Marsalis, who is practically a member of musical royalty. Marsalis is coming, and he's bringing an orchestra with him. Jazz at the Lincoln Center is not the name of an event, but is a the name of the arts institute he co-founded in 1987. A big band of the same name travels with him, and now they will bring their big sound to the big state of Texas. Needless to say, this is no small event. Marsalis is not just any artist, but an ambassador of classical music and of the great American musical form of Jazz itself.

Wynton, an amazing jazz trumpeter, hails from (what many consider to be) the first family of modern American Jazz. The Marsalis patriarch, Ellis, was a jazz musician from New Orleans who broke the mold of dixieland musicians decades ago. Over the years, he worked with scores of other artists and was regarded as one of he most influential pianists on the scene. Wynton and three of his brothers all became musicians in their own right, keeping the momentum of jazz propelling forward into new generations. He began studying trumpet at age 12, and moved to New York at age 18 to attend the Juilliard School of Music. Less than a year later, he signed with Columbia Records. Wynton released his first album in 1982, and has since created numerous jazz and classical recordings that have sold millions across the globe.

Naturally for someone of his caliber, the accolades have flowed his way like a series of cool jazz riffs. Marsalis has won nine Grammy awards, and is the only person to ever win Grammys for jazz and classical records.  In 1997, he became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his epic oratorio, Blood on the Fields, about a couple moving from slavery towards freedom.

For the last quarter century, Marsalis and Jazz at the Lincoln Center have preformed around the globe. Wynton has performed in over 30 countries and on every continent, with the exception Antarctica. Penguins may be accustomed to cooler climates, but apparently they've missed out on some cool cool jazz.

When playing together, the big band is like a force of nature. Take, for instance, this performance of Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra a few years ago in San Diego. They perform a little John Coltrane, but it's just... simply... wow. It's hard for words to describe.

My goodness, just listen to that, will ya? Incredible. Now, just close your eyes and imagine this sound without the restraint of your computer, smartphone or tablet speakers that you probably just heard this on. Imagine this filling the auditorium of The Paramount... where the sound can envelope you, fill you mind, and make a cool little smile creep up the side of your face like a rising balloon.

This man with a limitless work ethic is also a advocate for the arts and an educator to boot at the institute, never tiring in his pursuit in bringing classical music and jazz to masses the owrld over. And now, Wynton brings his signature sound to The Paramount. Join the band in the vaulted venue, and let him teach you a thing or two on this upcoming night.

Horns up, Austin (brass horns, that is). Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra bring it on Wednesday, February 6th. And that's truly something to get all jazzed up about.