Philadelphia welcomed local and international jazz stars April 22 weekend.
The Kimmel Center had a double-barreled pair of long-time jazz vocal favorites with legendary singer Little Jimmy Scott and 3-time-Grammy-winning vocalist, Dianne Reeves. Both these singers gave performances that had the audience standing on their feet and applauding. Scott has a hypnotically theaterical voice style and Reeves may be the most powerful blues singer since Bessie Smith.
Little Jimmy Scott, 79, has been entertaining the world for more than 50 years, but inexplicably, is also what the New York Times called, "the most unjustly ignored singer of the 20th Century. He has a new CD Over The Rainbow, including some of his favorite numbers, and just returned from Europe. He started with Lionel Hampton and told us he will be singing one song he did in Meadsville with the famed Lester Young, "Don't Take Your Love From Me.
"I love Philly, he said, "it is one of my special places to play, I am just anxious to get there and see old friends, so many of them from the begining of my career. He sang such all time favorites as "Pennies From Heaven,.
He noted the resurgence of The Great American Song Book, saying, "I call them, the teacher of music; don't forget to play close attention is just what this book is about about. Acknowledging some grim aspects of life, he said, "I'm just happy to be doing something that I call the first love of my life. He was accompanied by The Jazz Expressions featuring Aaron Graves, piano; Hilliard Greene, bass; T.K. Blue, tenor sax and flute and Dwayne "Cook Broadnax, drums. His performance was spellbinding and the Jazz Expressions gave the most exciting presentation I have seen since the days of Jazz at the Philharmonic. Graves and Blue were stand-outs.
Dianne Reeves was with her trio featuring Peter Martin, piano; Reginald Veal, bass and Greg Hutchinson, drums. She has performed worldwide with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Sir Simon Rattle. Her voice is so dramatically compelling that it truly leaves listeners breathless if not the singer.
Chris' Jazz Cafe was celebrating its newly renovated, dramatically expanded facilities with the appearance of some of the finest jazz musicians in Philadelphia launching a new CD, Philly Gumbo vol. 2.
The club seating capacity was increased by 30 per cent with a new sound system and stage set up better spotlighting the bands than in their prior "in the corner location. The CD band at the club led by John Swana, trumpet, has Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna, tenor sax; Sid Simmons, piano; Mike Boone, bass and Byron Landham, drums. All these musicians are top flight.
The CD, with numbers by the musicians, is the first, inexplicably, to feature McKenna and Barnes, long-time favorites at various gigs where their exchanges recall the glory days of Jazz at The Philharmonic. Bootsie has a powerhouse horn that recalls Coleman Hawkins and McKenna has the grace and drive of Lester Young. All these men have been stars here and nationally, but they prefer to make Philadelphia home base. The CD numbers are excitingly original. Their show at Chris' was just as exciting, although Saturday night the drummer was working another gig. Swana, Bootsie, McKenna, Simmons and Boone are not merely some of the finest Philly jazz stars. They can hold their own against anyone, anywhere at any time.