Doc Severinsen brings El Ritmo to Seattle
Trumpeter and bandleader Doc Severinsen discovered guitarist Gil Gutierrez and violinist Pedro Cartas playing in a restaurant in central Mexico. Their talent lured him back on the road to travel with the band El Ritmo de la Vida. The group stops at Seattle Symphony Feb. 26-29.
By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times
Former "Tonight Show" bandleader Doc Severinsen, 81, interrupted his retirement in Mexico to tour with musicians he discovered playing in a restaurant in his adopted home city of San Miguel de Allende.
Concert preview Doc Severinsen's Rhythm of Life
7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $28-$87 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
"I thought all I was going to do was ride horses," says Doc Severinsen of his scrubbed plans for retirement. "I haven't been to my stable in a month."
Severinsen, a trumpet master, leader of the big band on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and a busy pops conductor in the last quarter-century, decided "that it was time to hang it up" in 2007.
It wasn't long, however, before Severinsen was on the road again, playing dates with his new band, El Ritmo de la Vida (The Rhythm of Life) and various U.S. symphony orchestras. Severinsen and El Ritmo perform this Thursday through Sunday at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
"My wife and I were going to retire to Italy," the 81-year-old Severinsen says. "But then we came here and fell in love with the place."
"Here" is San Miguel de Allende, "which is near the center of Mexico as nearly as they can tell," Severinsen says.
Speaking by phone from his ranch there, Severinsen gazes through his window and says the region is "beautiful, encompassing. What I'm looking out on reminds me of Tanzania. In the city, you'd think you're in Tuscany, with buildings that are 500 years old."
Ensconced in such a paradise, Severinsen had no intention of launching an ambitious series of concert dates again. But that was before he took his family out for an Italian dinner in town.
"Shortly after I got here, a friend encouraged me to hear the musicians at this restaurant," Severinsen says. "She persisted, and when my daughter and grandchildren came to visit, we went to have food there and take in the music.
"When [guitarist Gil Gutierrez and violinist Pedro Cartas] started playing, I said, my God, these musicians aren't just good. They're world-class. I introduced myself, and they had no idea who I was. But they were making an album and invited me to come do a solo or two. Meanwhile, I made calls, including a call to the Seattle Symphony, and I said we should build a pops concert around them, and I'll conduct. But everyone insisted I play as well as conduct. I started playing with the band at the restaurant, then we began touring in the states. It was all a huge success."
Severinsen, Gutierrez and Cartas are joined on their tour by percussionist Miguel Favero and bassist Gilberto Gonzalez. Along with the Seattle Symphony, they'll perform music by Astor Piazzolla, Chick Corea, Manuel de Falla, Django Reinhardt and a selection from Ennio Morricone's film score for "The Mission."
After the Carson-era "The Tonight Show" ended in 1992, Severinsen hit the road with members of the NBC Orchestra, playing standards, big-band classics and pop. But a different career opportunity beckoned.
"When I had a chance to play symphonies, I told my management that Las Vegas could wait," Severinsen says. "They didn't understand that, so I got new management. It's pretty seductive to conduct a great pops orchestra. There's no end to what you can do."
Tom Keogh: [email protected]