From the name of the album and group I was expecting to hear from Lesley Byers and the Jazz Cats something along the lines of Keely Smith with Louis Prima and Sam Butera's Witnesses, but Byers and her quintet of capable Windy City sidemen offer a more straight-ahead brand of Jazz that's as well-crafted as it is pleasurable. Byers is a bright, amiable singer who must be even more charming to see than merely to hear. One can readily sense her remarkable vitality and enthusiasm for what she does, and there's no doubt that Byers knows how to sell a lyric. As a bonus, her articulation is so clear and precise that almost every syllable is sharply defined and comprehensible, which isn't always true of contemporary singers, some of whom, it must be said, seem more interested in showing off than in telling a story, which is what a singer should do (for a splendid example of how to narrate one properly, listen to Byers on Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies"). For her third album as leader, she has chosen five popular works from the Great American Song Book to complement such swing-oriented fare as "Hit That Jive Jack," "A Slick Chick" and "Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)." Byers is persuasively forlorn on "Black Coffee" an scats with assurance on the Ellington novelty tune "Bli-Blip." Another highlight is the clever "rise-to-stardom" opus, "Big Time." There's one instrumental track, Lester Young's peppery "Lester Leaps In." Tenor Ed Enright, whose name I'd seen before as a writer for (I think) Down Beat magazine, solos on that one with guitarist Zvonimir Tot and drummer Deric Perry. Elsewhere, the main soloists are Enright (on tenor or baritone) and pianist John Proulx. Even though the playing time is a modest forty minutes and change, almost all of them are rewarding. In sum, an ultra-classy caper by a super-hip (and slick) chick.
Track Listing: Mean to Me; Love Me or Leave Me; Perdido; Hit That Jive Jack; Black Coffee; A Slick Chick (on the Mellow Side); I've Got You Under My Skin; Lester Leaps In; Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean); Bli-Blip; Big Time; Blue Skies (40:38).
Personnel: Lesley Picchietti Byers, vocals; Ed Enright, alto, tenor, baritone sax; John Proulx, piano; Zvonimir Tot, guitar; Mike Maratea, bass; Deric Perry, drums, percussion.
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.