Play it Again, Woody

Ten years ago I attended one of Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band gigs — the stuff of legend, held every Monday night at Michael's Pub on East 55th Street in Manhattan. These shows were supposedly so sacred to Woody that he never missed one; back when the Academy Awards were held on Monday, he played clarinet in New York City instead of attending — even in 1978, when Annie Hall won best picture.

The band arrived, punctually, and did their thing. But no Woody. Just a cover charge, drink minimum, and expensive meal; my companion and I dropped a couple hundred bucks — not cheap for a couple of grad students.

Last night at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts my chance came around again. This time, he showed. The first thing I noted as the band launched into its Dixieland jazz repertoire was: sounds like a Woody Allen movie. (Allen himself played on the Sleeper soundtrack.) I'm no aficionado, but to my ear Woody did his best solo work in the up-tempo numbers; he seemed to struggle with his clarinet's sustain when things got slow. But he belted out some memorable passages, and the rest of the band — led by banjo-wielding Eddy Davis — was even better.

The audience — mostly what you'd call "older folks" — delighted in the spectacle, though they seemed to tire of the custom of applauding solos and did so unevenly (to the unfair, but arbitrary, disadvantage of trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who was perhaps the best musician).

Woody played it straight, from his familiar slouching-strut entrance to his audience banter, which was succinct and gracious. But he closed, after a long encore, with a touch of the classic Woody. After the band played "We'll Meet Again," he said, "Well, in all likelihood we won't meet again. Life is cruel that way." The crowd laughed and applauded some more. -Frank Houston

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