It is no secret that Pearl Bailey is a consummate, even virtuoso performer. Backed by her own quartet and the National Symphony last night at Wolf Trap, she was comedienne, storyteller, chanteuse and jazz vocalist. She strutted, kicked, shimmied, and did a belly dance, all to the delight of the audience. And the cats in the band dug her, all 80 of them.
She swept across the stage as she sang, acted "Life Is a Cabaret," got dreamy on "Here's That Rainy Day," mimed "Send in the Clowns" and growled out "Bill Bailey."
Her timing, wit and occasional ribaldry were well-utilized in several monologues, in one of which she spoke of her present role as an undergraduate at a local university. Asked by classmates, "What is the difference between your era and ours?" she replied, "Honey, we could do what you can do, but you can't do what we could do."
Louis Belson led off with an extended percussion feature, rolling his double bass drums, soft-shoeing with brushes, and using sticks with finger cymbals attached for some wide overhand reaches across his impressive array of hardware.
At concert's end guitarist Remo Palmeri, bassist John Williams and pianist Rozelle Claxton stretched out in a jam on "In the Good Old Summertime."
The first set by the National Symphony, conducted with flair and authority by Christian Badea, appropriately began with the bombastic "Festive Overture" by Shostakovich and concluded with Leonard Bernstein's raggy, jazzed-up "Times Square: 1944."