Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Denise King and Venissa Santi Conclude Billie Holiday Tribute at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia

Victor L. Schermer By

Sign in to view read count
Kimmel Center's Jazz Up Close Series, 2009-2010 Season
Back in Your Own Back Yard: Billie Holiday Tribute
Denise King and Venissa Santi
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May 1, 2010

This, the final concert in an eclectic series organized by Curator Danilo Pérez and linked by the goal of honoring the memory of the great Billie Holiday, featured two fine divas, each bringing her own style and musical agenda to bear on Holiday's signature songs and each succeeding in capturing not so much Lady Day's unique sound as the way she was able to convey emotions and moods.

Denise King (pictured on left) is a seasoned jazz vocalist and a familiar figure in the Philadelphia area. Her performance took on added significance for the locals, since it was the last opportunity to hear her before she leaves the city for an indefinite time while performing in Europe. Venissa Santi, who opened for her, is a younger singer of considerable talent who has taken up residence in Philadelphia, recently releasing her first CD, Bienvenida (Sunnyside, 2008), a compilation of jazz derivatives from the perspective of her family's home country, Cuba. The contrast between the two was striking. Santi is forging a new Cuban jazz format, with an emphasis on rumba and other native rhythms. King brings with her the lively swinging tradition of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, with a finesse and enthusiasm second to none.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Venissa Santi: vocals with John Stenger: piano, Jason Fraticelli: bass, Francois Zayas: drums and arranger, Chris Aschman: trumpet, Josh Robiuson: percussion.

Santi came on with a straight-ahead version of a Billie Holiday favorite, the popular standard "What's New," accompanied only by pianist Robert Stenger, a working member of the group Ellipsis. In this ballad Santi immediately demonstrated her artful voice and mastery of Holiday's idiom while capturing the shifting moods of a lover encountering her "ex" and trying vainly to re-start the relationship. Judging from both her performance on the recording and this concert, Santi makes sophisticated use of vocal inflections to capture the introspection of a song, an ability she shares with her friend and mentor, Joanna Pascale, another of Philadelphia's great jazz vocalists. Following this meditative lyric, she brought on the entire band for her original, "Talkin' to You," representing the Cuban/jazz synthesis that is her unique contribution to the legacy, a lively concatenation of Cuban rhythms and dissonances—and a welcome contrast to both Brazilian bossa nova and popular "salsa" music while incorporating features of both.

By integrating the Cuban idiom with jazz, Santi has at a young age already earned herself a place in jazz history, developing an approach which requires great skill to execute, not to mention the ability to impart the strong, spicy elements that electrically charge up any song. Her music calls for very gifted sidemen, and while the instrumental crew, with the exception of drummer/arranger Francois Zayas, was not the same as the superlative support on her CD, they repeatedly proved their mettle, especially pianist Stenger and bassist Fraticelli. Stenger has a very controlled approach, while Fraticelli pulls out all the stops, creating a tension of opposites that served the Cuban tautness very well. Moreover, the arrangements by Zayas captured the essence of Santi's vocal approach, energetic but held back rhythmically in a way that conveys the tension of life, the pressures which the Cuban people know all too well and which also characterize the underpinnings of American jazz.

For the duration of her set, Santi stayed with Zayas' Cuban-based arrangements of Billie Holiday classics, coming on with "You're My Thrill" featuring Aschman on trumpet, a brilliant version of "Travelin' Light," and finally "That Old Devil Called Love," with a masterful piano solo by Stenger. "Involved Again," a song which, according to Santi, Holiday intended to record but never did, was touching. "I Cover the Waterfront" was evocative of the sensuality of pre-revolution Havana Harbor. "My Man" conveyed the false hope and resignation of Holiday's version; and the concluding number, "You Better Go Now," was done sweetly and gently, with a sensitive cornet solo by Aschman.

During the intermission chat that has become an integral part of "Jazz Up Close," DJ Maureen Malloy of WRTI asked some pointed questions of Santi and King, with King confessing that she's had better breaks in Europe than her home city of Philadelphia, and Santi acknowledging some of her difficulties becoming better known period, although she is getting a good deal of radio exposure these days. The life of a jazz artist is often fraught with obstacles, and it was refreshing to hear the honesty of both these divas, instead of the usual carefully crafted clichés.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms Live Reviews Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms
by Martin Longley
Published: January 17, 2018
Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read "Miles Electric Band at Koerner Hall" Live Reviews Miles Electric Band at Koerner Hall
by Alain Londes
Published: October 28, 2017
Read "Los Angeles Guitar Quartet's European Debut of Pat Metheny Commission Highlights Uppsala International Guitar Festival" Live Reviews Los Angeles Guitar Quartet's European Debut of Pat...
by John Ephland
Published: November 1, 2017
Read "Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater" Live Reviews Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: August 19, 2017
Read "The Wood Brothers at Higher Ground" Live Reviews The Wood Brothers at Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: February 10, 2017
Read "Arturo Sandoval at the Blue Note" Live Reviews Arturo Sandoval at the Blue Note
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: October 30, 2017