Cheryl Bentyne & City of Hope All-Star Jazz Benefit: Hollywood, CA, August 11, 2012
What Baker and Wilkerson were also able to accomplish artistically was a sideways introduction to Lorraine Feather's inimitable songwriting and singing. Feather is a recording artist whose skills as a raconteur are on a par with Dave Frishberg or Mose Allison and who, in live performance, is a naturally facile improvising storyteller and word-player. Devoted fans know this from a few of her recorded musings, but those who have heard nothing but the "radio hits" selected by programming directors might not know the treasures to be heard in a live setting. With her typically lazy-eyed sotto voce, she led off her performance with a wry, understated preamble to "Antarctica," her hilarious lyrical collaboration with Duke Ellington's composition "The Ricitic," that left the assembled alternately smiling and laughing out loud. Her classic commentary on the frozen tundra of love's Iditarod was followed by "Love Call," another lyricizing of an Ellington tune, "Creole Love Call," and while the original has certainly gotten more airplay, it would be tempting to say that until one has heard Feather's heart-rending soprano and lyrics paired with the master's composition, one really hasn't heard it all.
The evening continued with the meandering gutbucket-to-bebop ruminations of Bob McChesney, a busy session trombonist who has played with everyone from pianist Horace Silver to singer Ray Charles, then went late into the evening with a raffle, a solo appearance from Clamor doing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," a standup comic, L.A.-based singer Dolores Scozzesi (known for her interpretation of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee"), and even morethose who were able to stay for it all said it ended as well as it had started. Thanks largely to the tireless work and promotional skills of producer/publicist Rob Lowe and his wife Brinka Olberdingwhose organization Casting New Lives is home to a number of jazz artistsand emcee Elizabeth Zero's wit and pace, the event was a confirmed success.
All the proceeds from this and the Friday performance went to benefit the City of Hope, an organization whose efforts helped save the life of a national treasure, and those in attendance were treated to a style and quality of music sorely absent from today's music scene. The soaring soprano range and chutzpah of Cheryl Bentyne melted our hearts once again, and more than that, assured us that she would be back to melt them again.
As a footnote to the night's events, there is the lingering feeling that Bentyne's prediction, while making introductions earlier in the eveningthat the variety show is back and here to staymight be prophetic. Or at least a self-fulfilling prophesy. Could this resilient redhead be right?
Crazier things have happened. Who would ever have predicted that smack in the middle of the often bleak synthesizer-and-drum-machine landscape of 1980s music, Manhattan Transfer's two girls and two guys would ride to the rescue by doing bop-inflected vocalese, and be the hottest thing in jazz?
Variety is the proverbial spice of life. It's why a festival still works even in economically depressed times. Whereas someone might hesitate to purchase a $35 ticket to see a big act, that hesitation often evaporates when it means seeing six of them. Moreover, what sums up those concepts that define jazzthe mixing it up with inclusiveness, innovation, unpredictability, improvisation and an unbridled joie de vivrebetter than the idea of variety? What if the spectacular stage and television variety shows of the 1960s, jazz's answer to the rock-and-roll invasion, really were to stage a comeback because they had been here all along, and here to stay?
The divine Ms. B. could be onto something.