The beautiful Steinway Hall, a two-story rotunda with high domed, hand painted ceiling, extensive marble appointments and portraits of legendary musical artists, was host on Wednesday to Judy Carmichael’s fundraising concert for Listening for Life. Patrons and fans greeted the jazz musician, vocalist, and educator with warmth and enthusiasm.
A rousing, open throttle “I’ve Got Rhythm” (George & Ira Gershwin) confirmed Carmichael’s musicianship with dense, dexterous ragtime. Her easy, swingy rendition of 1930’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (Walter Donaldson) showcased the performer’s attractive, slightly breathy, alto voice. Phrasing was appealingly nuanced.
For a tribute to Fats Waller, Dick Hyman suggested Carmichael cone up with something less well known. Friend (and tonight’s guest) Steve Ross, whose knowledge and musical library is legendary, disinterred Waller’s “Come and Get It,” (with Ed Kirkeby) a jivey number with more than a little sass. Now if you’re gonna love me and want me to be your Judy (new lyric)/Don’t just turtledove me/I gotta get myself some booty. Ready for the sax she simply calleds out-“Harry!” and Allen tooks off, instrument smiling while only his eyebrows moved.
“Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” (Andy Razaf/ Don Redman) is sung without piano. Low key and a bit suggestive, Carmichael’s voice softened, the sax sounded muted, bass guitar came in with notes that seemed to linger in thought. The performer was chatty and likeable, her accompanying anecdotes sincere and apt. Those about the vicissitudes of securing a decent piano at out of town gigs were particularly humorous.
Guest artist Steve Ross began with a classy, up tempo rendition of “As Long As I Live” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler). It would not have been surprising to see champagne bubbles emanating from his piano. Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” followed with mournful lilt, words trailing into one another effectively. The understated version epitomized more melodic jazz, evoking late night in an empty hotel bar. Ross is clearly as talented with lyrical interpretation of less frequently played sad songs. A signature version of Noel Coward’s “Mrs. Worthington” (Don’t put your daughter on the stage!) ended his solo set with wry and chipper music hall attitude.
Once again announcing his engagement to Carmichael (an affectionate tradition), Carmichael and Ross then duet on an unfussy, honky-tonk “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields). The two work beautifully together, vocally playing off one another (Ross at the piano) with familiarity and pleasure. Watch for an upcoming evening featuring the duo.
Carmichael performed several more numbers including a jitterbug blues (an oxymoron?) of her own authorship with the superb Chris Flory and ending with one of her favorites, a version of “Honeysuckle Rose” (Fats Waller/Andy Razaf) the infectiously happy performer made sound like a giggle and a skip.
Listening for Life was established in response to conversation that arose at a Master Class conducted by Judy Carmichael. When the question arose as to why the students think music is so important to young people now, Carmichael responded she felt kids were simply afraid of silence. The ensuing discussion lead her first to want to share her awareness that filling silence is not synonymous with listening.
Listening for Life is bent on cutting through the cacophony of our electronic era and its tandem decrease in attention span by helping teach young people to open their minds, hearts, ears and, using music as portal, to listen more fully. Workshops and classes (elementary through college age) about jazz, listening, and how to better appreciate live performance are nationally enabled by the worthy, non-for-profit organization. Sessions expand perspective by educating in a way both comprehensible and appealing.
Each “full time, award winning concert artist” brings something stylistically unique to the program engaging his/her audience. Musicians put jazz historically and anecdotally in context illustrating the way the genre gave birth to popular music of today. Improvising artists in particular must have strong listening skills in order to musically “converse.” Demonstration and articulation of this part of the craft is often revelatory to students. When an ensemble is involved, the attributes of specific instrumentation is explored. As with all art, understanding complexity is enriching, enthusiasm opens minds.
Judy Carmichael: Listening for Life
With Special Guest Steve Ross
Harry Allen – Saxophone, Chris Flory- Guitar
June 13, 2012