Jimmy Buffet 4.0

By Rick Boettger

Jordan Sommer shook the rafters of Old Stone Church on a recent Sunday with his clarion baritenor voice, singing another hybrid, Hunchback of the Opera.

Key West is regularly visited by the Spirit of Saint Buffet.  Imagine stumbling upon him in the Chart Room in November 1971, no cover, him playing for drinks and tips.  That is what I felt like in a parallel venue, Old Stone, another space where music is second, here to God, at the Chart room to Drinks.  And Jordan was playing not for  drinks but for his spiritual home base, and instead of tips, for donations to his art.  And while Buffet played for the central citizenry of his days, young barhopping ocean folk, Jordan sings for the current Key West mainstream citizenry, a bunch of well-off seniors.

I call him Buffet 4.0 because I’ll bet there are at least two other magical musicians who have popped up here for free and gone on to some sort of wider fame and fortune.  We have to enjoy them while they are here.

Jordan is a natural tenor with the richness of a baritone.  He has a 2.5 octave range in his chest voice, and another octave and a half in his head voice, which he used with great aplomb at the critical points in the dramatic Phantom of the Opera sequel featuring Quasimodo.  My most challenging showboat piece is Music of the Night, and he sang it like Michael Crawford, hitting the high “soar” and “be” in his bronze chest tenor, even easily on top of the “be.”  (I’ve got a pretty big voice, but I think I sound like an eager pussycat compared to Jordan’s mighty lion.)

Even more than the lion was the bull elephant opening of the organ, with Jordan himself, in cowelled costume, snuck in like the Phantom himself to play the famous thundering chords—DUMMMM…Da Da da da dummmmm, the full 2 ½ minutes of the Overture.  I thought it must have been Timothy Peterson or John Penkovsky, and was surprised to see Tim humbly take the place of the masked Jordan as the Phantom took the stage.  To tell the truth, I think he missed a couple of notes Tim or John wouldn’t’ve, but after violin, piano, and voice, this is really just Jordan’s messing-around instrument, for showpieces like this.

This time a fine vocal mic let us hear every timbre of Jordan’s large, clear, resonant voice.  These are songs we mostly know, and have heard sung by the best tenors in the land all our lives.  So it is a hard accomplishment to impress us—which he does early on, with his his ending 11-second “there” in “Out There,” a pure, high, straight tone (which my beloved Cynthia never fails to praise, which I take as a subtle dig at my own light vibrato).  Next he vocalises through “Think of Me,” a kind of high-class scat for musicals, not the Jazz Club.  Later he goes down all F2 bass on us in Heaven’s Light, using the mic to clarify his rich full range on the bottom.  (Hey, Jordan, these are my notes, and if you want to share, give me a few of your G#’s and Bb’s on the top side.)

This is just a sample of the detailed compliments I could make.  If you were there, every time your ears lit up, trust me, you were right about how special it was.  To my credit I only cried once, for his version of “Music of the Night,” an almost sacred song for me, and I am getting all weepy again right now, listening to the mere recording as I write this.  A verse in his angelic falsetto.  Purity.  Perfection. Sweet music.  Feeling it.

I hesitate to say that this show was even better than Jordan’s recital of Classic Songs and Ballads in March.  When people are kind enough to tell me how much nicer my voice is now than it was a few years ago, I say “Thanks,” but I’m thinking, “I was soloing ‘Oh Holy Night’ for 400 at the College, what was I then, chopped liver?”  But here I think Jordan’s two months study with Jesse Wachs of Rumble Productions, the best vocal coach I’ve found in my 12 years of looking, have pushed his range, vowel character, and character/scene development to a new professional level.

Okay, time to finish with some non-vocalist observations.  Everyone’s main complaint has to be the lack of a spotlight on Jordan’s beautiful face, even when it’s half covered with the Quasimodo mask.  What’s the point of keeping such a handsome mug in the dark?  Some floodlights came on near the end to show his shadow in the backdrop, but that only half-showed us what we had been missing.

The sung libretto, bolstered by further narration (well-enunciated by Old Stone’s Pastor, Bridget Thornton, and written at length in the excellent program) seems clear phase by phrase, sentence by sentence.  But overall I just couldn’t follow it.  This may simply be the way of operas, like most Shakespeare—just roll with the rollicking language and song, let the sense seep in below the conscious calculation.  But I’d like to read something maybe a quarter as long (I’m not volunteering, I write longer, not shorter).  This may be impossible, as Jordan has created his own amalgamation of TWO previous musicals, Phantom by Webber and Disney’s Hunchback, and there may be no way to dumb it down to my level.

Following the beautiful song is all we need.  It is clear he and the whole troupe are having a great time.  The church choir chimes in, and Jordan had the confidence to give two other fine tenors, John Swann and Tim Peterson, a lyric counterpoint to Jordan near the end.  I asked John about his brief role, and he modestly said just, “It had a lot of words.”

That’s it for the review.  Following are some musings about bandying about Jimmy Buffet’s name.  Of course, it’s primarily a hook to get you to read, the kind of thing I have been doing for 20 years to trick readers into starting my columns.  I remembered the rumor that people who bought Jimmy’s house on Riviera were NOT allowed to use his name in ads when they were reselling it, enough, if true, to give one pause to take his name in vain here.

But it’s worth the risk to me.  There is no good in regretting missing Jimmy in 1971 at the still rocking Chart Room, when we should be trying to both find and then appreciate the possibilities of magic right in front of us, here, today, like Jordan.  

We all help create our won realities.  I’d rather think I saw a Buffet-in-the-raw, than, on the other side, to have actually seen Jimmy in 1971 and not had a second thought about it, maybe just, “New guy’s not too bad.”  We must count our blessings, or blessings they may not be.  Buffet is not just the best ever for Key West, but maybe the all-time musical pride of all Florida.  We shall not see the exaltation of his like again.  But that cannot make us overlook the special treats we have in our Paradise for the joys they now are.

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