Saturday, March 13, 2010

What Some Men Can Do with Their Mouths

Early start menu at Bistro 27. Arturo Sandoval playing with the Richmond Symphony. Storm strolling. That's the Cliff Notes version of my evening so that you don't have to keep reading if you don't care to.

Not long before 5:00, my friend Nicholas, who plays with the Richmond Symphony, suggested we meet at 6 for dinner and I offered 27 as a destination so I could try the early start menu (Fridays and Saturdays 5-6:30 for $20) and we could catch up before the performance. My bad; I had not allowed for the volumes of people wanting to eat before seeing Wicked and Sandoval. The place was 70% full when I walked in and 110% full within twenty minutes.

This week's early menu offered the Venti Sette salad, which I got, or a Caesar and for entrees, beef ravioli, cappelini with veggies, chicken picatta or pork loin in a mustard/caper sauce with mashed potatoes and mixed veggies (I had the pork); for dessert, it was cheesecake or chocolate torte with blueberries and strawberries (guess which one I had). The pork serving was generous and that mustard/caper sauce typical of Chef Carlos' deft hand with sauces.

As 27 continued to fill up and overflow with pre-culture attendees, I heard a nearby bar sitter ask the bartender to call them a cab for 7:45. He looked skeptical, knowing the taxi situation here when clearly they didn't, but graciously accommodated anyway. Meanwhile, the guest van from the Marriott showed up empty, only to have the driver come inside to pick up a take-out order for a hotel guest.

Because I was buying my ticket minutes before the performance, I was seated in the very last row of the Carpenter stage, a first for me. Everyone around me had been a last minute buyer and the show was sold out I was told, which wasn't surprising given our illustrious guest's appearance.

The Richmond Symphony played for the first half, with an emphasis on music that celebrated their own trumpet players. After the first piece, 'Raiders March' the guy next to me asked if it was from a movie because it had sounded familiar to him. My friend Nicholas had alerted me that they'd be playing this theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, so I told the guy where it came from. The irony of this exchange is that I am undoubtedly the only person in the entire theater who has never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and had Nicholas not given me the scoop, I'd have been completely clueless.

The second half was all about Arturo Sandoval, the Cuban-born trumpeter who was a protege of Dizzy Gillespie. In honor of him, I'd even worn my Barcelona tights (the only ones I have with a Spanish connection) for the occasion. He began by asking if he'd played here before, apologizing by saying, "Sorry. After fifty years, I can't remember all the gigs." When they went to play 'Someone to Watch Over Me,' he asked the conductor, "Is this George Gershwin?"

Sandoval said that piano playing was considered a girl thing in Cuba and if a boy asked to learn it, the reaction was, "Uh-oh. This boy has problems." Despite the cultural bias, Sandoval went on to learn piano when he moved to the U.S. He had expected the move to better his English, but as he explained, "We moved to Miami. It's impossible to improve your English there!"

Apparently the appeal of the piano was that, unlike the trumpet, there was no pain involved. He said that playing the piano allowed him to laugh or have a phone conversation or even talk to pretty girls, things prohibited by the all-consuming trumpet. After a couple of rollicking songs with Sandoval on piano, he again picked up his horn with, "Back to the pain."

During the course of the evening, he played not only trumpet and piano, but also drums and keyboard. And his feet never stopped moving. Finally, he asked if we wanted one more song. The thunderous ovation was his answer and he did come back after that for one last encore.

During the final number, a crazy, rhythmic dance piece he'd written and dedicated to his Spanish grandparents, he let out a "Babaloo," and then told the audience, "That's Ricky." I got it, but not a lot of other people laughed. But everyone was on their feet by the end of the song.

Walking out, I heard a guy in a Hawaiian shirt say to someone, "What did you think, man? It's a gas, ain't it?" That was as good a description as any for the Latin thrill we'd experienced there tonight.

And, as if that weren't enough perfection for one night, we were walking out of Center Stage into a thunderstorm, complete with heat lightening, distant thunder and a gentle rain. What made it so wonderful was the mid-50s temperature, so even without any sort of wrap except a scarf, it wasn't the least bit unpleasant to be out in. In fact, it was like a promise that spring is just around the corner.

And, congratulations if you skipped the abbreviated version of my night and read the whole thing, details, opinions and all. You get an A+.


  1. I should point out that Raiders is required viewing for my generation (and your'n, I'd wager). It's no surprise you haven't seen it. That said, it's a fun flick.

  2. You're not surprised why? Because I eschew the required?