Crosby, Stills and Nash surprised the audience with a new look when they walked onstage dressed in dark gray Brooks Brothers suits for a benefit concert with Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
"If you laugh at our suits, you're getting thrown out of here," quipped Graham Nash. "My first pair of grown-up shoes," David Crosby added, without skipping a beat. "They have laces and everything."
Nash admitted to some uncertainty about whether the languages of rock and jazz "would blend" at Friday night's concert in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater.
But such concerns were quickly dispelled once the folk-rock trio's trademark intricate vocal harmonies and acoustic and electric guitar parts were enhanced by the JLCO's tight ensemble playing and skilled soloists such as saxophonists Sherman Irby, trumpeter Marcus Printup and trombonist Vincent Gardner.
The jazz arrangements, mostly written by JLCO members, reimagined a dozen tunes from the Crosby, Stills and Nash songbook, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were clearly thrilled with the results on songs such as "Love the One You're With."
"It's like getting to play with the bigger kids," Crosby said. He later added that they were having so much fun it felt "like three children being let loose in NASA."
The jazz orchestra added a chugging rhythm to "Marrakesh Express" from CSN's 1969 debut album, while the anti-war tune "Military Madness" got a big-band swing arrangement that opened with a brassy fanfare and closed with a military-style drum roll and the trumpets playing "Taps."
The rock trio drew inspiration from the jazz orchestra's soloists. Stephen Stills played a hot acoustic guitar solo in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," even quoting Beatle George Harrison's "Within You Without You." And Nash couldn't resist throwing in a harmonica solo on "Deja Vu."
Another highlight came when Marsalis, playing a muted trumpet, went to the front of the stage to play alongside Crosby and Nash on a tender, intimate trio version of Crosby's folk ballad "Guinnevere," which trumpeter Miles Davis covered in a 1970 recording.
Marsalis, JLCO's music director, said he was impressed by the amount of time the rock trio spent rehearsing the complex arrangements in order to master material outside their comfort zone.
"They embody the spirit of collaboration because it's easy to just say, 'Here, I'm used to doing stuff a certain way and you have to do it this way,'" Marsalis told the audience. "They came here and were dealing with swing grooves, all kinds of changes, and things coming in on different beats."
Marc Quinones of the Allman Brothers Band made a guest appearance to play Latin percussion on several numbers. Crosby's son, James Raymond, who plays keyboards in the CSN band, conducted the performance.
On Wednesday, Crosby, Stills and Nash performed with the jazz orchestra at a private gala. The two performances were the latest in an annual series of benefit concerts with pop-rock performers to support Jazz at Lincoln Center, which in previous years has featured Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon.
After Crosby declared, "We need you to sing, not just rattle your jewelry," the concert closed with a sing-along version of "Teach Your Children," which was followed by an extended standing ovation until the trio reappeared onstage. Instead of an encore, Marsalis and other members of the JLCO returned to usher Crosby, Stills and Nash offstage in a lively New Orleans-style Second Line march.