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Live Reviews

11th Annual Women in Jazz Festival

By Published: June 1, 2006
NEA Jazz Master and vocal visionary Abby Lincoln closed the festival's second night in powerful form. Arriving on stage to a warm ovation, Lincoln, clad in all black, proceeded to mesmerize the audience with her grace, stage presence, and a carefully constructed series of songs that delved intimately into questions of age, suffering, and memory. While Lincoln's voice may have betrayed her at times, her intensity and willingness to confront the realities of aging in her performance proved her strength as an artist. By incorporating this level of personal introspection into her music, Lincoln drew new layers of meaning from many of her signature songs, transforming the series of tunes into a dramatic existential meditation.

The festival's final night followed the previous two with a similar diversity of musical styles and forms. First, pianist and educator Trudy Pitts got the crowd's blood flowing with a set of music split between her classically inflected, graceful piano and her more raucous, funky excursions on organ. Following this appealing schizophrenic display, veteran vocalist Ernestine Anderson took over for an almost cabaret-styled series of tunes ranging from the slow blues number, "Nightlife , to a deftly handled rendition of "Sunny Side of the Street , to a humorous and thoroughly entertaining delivery of "Never Make Your Move Too Soon .

Appropriately, the festival then concluded with a hard-hitting, upbeat, and exuberant set of big-band music presented by the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Featuring an all-star cast, the Diva's proceeded to tear through one crowd-pleasing tune after another, each more impressive than the last. While none of the tunes may have been exceptionally avant-garde, each allowed the talented musicians ample space to showcase their skills as powerful soloists, many on multiple instruments. Competing for highlights of the set were a medley of Ella Fitzgerald tunes, including an expertly executed scat solo by Christine Fawson, and a scintillating rendition of "What a Little Moonlight Can Do on which Anat Cohen captured the audience with a clever, virtuosic clarinet solo.

One hopes that eventually the concept of a concert series specifically designed to highlight women in jazz will become less relevant. But we aren't there yet. After all, no one has ever seen a big-band titled the "All Male All Star Big-Band . Perhaps one day we'll need one of those. Until then, the Kennedy Center's Annual Women in Jazz festival is both a reminder that as many strides forward as jazz has taken, the path to gender equality remains a long one, and an excellent opportunity to hear fantastic music from some of today's greatest voices.

Photo Credit
Margot Schulman

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