A concert for the Walden Woods Project blends today's pop divas with yesterday's pop standards
More often than not, benefit concerts are hastily thrown-together affairs that lack cohesion or a consistent musical through-line.
That won't be the case at tonight's Stormy Weather '98, a benefit concert for Don Henley's Walden Woods Project at the Wiltern Theatre--at least if musical director Larry Klein has his way.
He and Henley have amassed an A-list lineup of female pop artists that includes Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Bjork, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole to perform jazz and pop standards of the '30s, '40s and '50s, backed by a 66-piece orchestra.
"I do Sting's rain forest benefit every year in New York, and those are always very elegant affairs," says Henley. "People always think of that as a New York type of thing, so I thought, 'Why can't we do something classy like that in L.A. as well?' "
It's an ambitious notion, to be sure, but from the moment Henley ran the idea past Klein two months ago, the L.A-based producer and bassist--who's worked on albums by his ex-wife Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Holly Cole, Carmen McCrae and Peter Gabriel among many others--knew it would be something memorable.
"I got really excited about it, particularly once we started creating a list of artists, and virtually everybody on our wish list agreed to perform," says Klein. "Which is nothing short of miraculous, given everyone's complicated schedules."
From the outset, Klein was prepared for the logistical snags he would encounter as the show date approached. For starters, most of the artists will be performing these songs in public for the first time, without the benefit of extensive rehearsals. That meant virtually all the pre-production work--choosing material, finding appropriate keys, structuring the arrangements--had to be handled via telephone.
Song selection was arrived at by mutual consensus. In some cases, the artists had very specific ideas about what they wanted to perform, while in others Klein and Henley played musical matchmakers.
"Don and I sat down with a bunch of old records and came up with a stockpile of songs," says Klein. "It eventually ended up being a 50-50 split between stuff we picked and songs the artist chose."
As for what songs made the final cut, tonight's audience should expect the unexpected.
"Bjork's choice of songs was brilliant," says Klein, citing one example. "I don't want to give both of them away, but she picked this obscure Billie Holiday song called 'Gloomy Monday' for one of her numbers, which is this really dark, beautifully crafted song. It just isn't something I would've picked her doing in a million years."
Gwen Stefani, the lead singer for multi-platinum rock-ska band No Doubt, also threw Klein for a bit of a loop. Not only did she choose the Andrews Sisters' "I Can Dream, Can't I?" as one of her two allotted songs, but Klein also discovered she had the chops to do the technically tricky song justice.
"She's got an incredible ear," says Klein. "When we were trying to determine a key for the song, Gwen started singing, and it was exactly the same key as the Andrews Sisters' version. I was really impressed with her, and I think people will be surprised by her performance."
For artists like Bjork, Stefani and Crow, tonight's benefit--whose proceeds will go to the recently completed Thoreau Institute, which contains the world's largest archive devoted to the work of author Henry David Thoreau and is located at Walden Woods in Lincoln, Mass.--provides an ideal opportunity to pay homage to songs with which they have an abiding affinity.
"I cut my musical teeth listening and singing old standards, but I've never sung these songs in concert before," says Crow. "I really believe in the cause, but I also wanted to pay tribute to what I think is a dying genre. It's gonna be a lot of fun doing it."
Stormy Weather '98 with Sandra Bernhard, Bjork, Toni Braxton, Natalie Cole, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Gwen Stefani and Trisha Yearwood, tonight at the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., 7 p.m. $75 and $152.50. (213) 380-5005.