LAS CRUCES — Doc Severinsen electrified an enthusiastic audience of about 5,200 at the Pan American Center Saturday in his farewell performance with a symphony orchestra.
The 80-year-old wowed the crowd, from his first powerful, passionate solo spiced with jazzy, soulful riffs, when he joined the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra for “Carmen Fantasy,” a piece written especially for Severinsen by composer and musician Frank Proto.
Once known as “the world’s greatest trumpet player,” Severinsen showed that he’s still got the goods — and maybe even a little something extra: an infusion of alma (soul) inspired by the land where he now makes his home, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Also firing the audience were Severinsen’s co-stars and amigos, Mariachi Cobre. The award-winning mariachi group contributed spirited music and dramatic vocals that merited spontaneous applause.
The orchestra added substantial fuel to the fiery evening of mariachi music, Mexican and Latino numbers that included “Tango Oblivion” and “Cuando Se Quiere” with trumpet and mariachis.
Severinsen performed feats that would have challenged guys half his age during “El Niño Perdido,” a traditional mariachi routine that had him jogging up the aisles of the Pan Am into the crowd for a dialogue of trumpet calls with Mariachi Cobre.
During his stint with NBC’s “Tonight Show,” which began in 1962 and ended with Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992, bandleader Severinsen was famous for his witty quips and flamboyant outfits, as well as his virtuoso performances. He lived up to his reputation with several flashy costume changes during the evening.
Severinsen proved that his fan base is still with him at a full-tilt fiesta gala dinner before the concert that attracted 400.
Jesse and Esperanza Sanchez came from La Union for the dinner and concert, it was the second Doc citing for Esperanza.
“I saw him at the Vegas airport,” she said.
“I’m just used to seeing him on TV, where he was great,” her husband added.
It was a reunion of sorts for David Wright, a second clarinetist in the symphony.
“I first played with Doc in a band in Burlington, Iowa, in 1962. He was visiting my dad, Maury, who was a band leader,” said Wright, who stopped by Severinsen’s hotel last week to show photos he’s saved from their first gig together.
“I’m a big fan of Mariache Cobre and a big fan of Doc and have been ever since “The Tonight Show,” said Orlando-Antonio Jiminez, of Las Cruces. “This is a hoot and a holler.”
Severinsen had the chance to connect with new generations of fans during rehearsals at New Mexico State University last week. Las Cruces Symphony director Lonnie Klein said that 1,500 complimentary tickets for Saturday’s concert were distributed to music teachers and their students at regional schools.
The Grammy Award-winning recording artist’s career started during the Big Band era and included stints with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra and the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet. He has recorded more than 30 albums and has been involved in design and manufacture of his own line of trumpets.
Saturday’s concert was sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces Foundation. Proceeds will benefit the foundation’s charities, including a 5,000 grant to Mesilla Hospice. Good Samaritans added another $6,000 for an encore.
Those who missed what was billed as Severinsen’s farewell performance with a symphony orchestra may get another chance. He and Klein discussed a future appearance with Severinsen’s new group, El Ritmo de la Vida, recently formed with musicians in Mexico.
Read more about Doc and full-tilt fiesta season in this week's Las Cruces Style.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org