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Lest We Forget: Remembering Myrna Lake at the Lenox Lounge 2006

Daniel Kassell By

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In his All About Jazz review of Yesterdays (Jazzing Music, 2008), Samuel Chell described singer Myrna Lake's recording as "an exploration of the power of memory itself, a musical narrative yielding the discovery that memory, like the songs that are eventually designated standards, is a moment in the present, an instant distinguished by heightened awareness and relived, powerful emotion."
Remembering the legendary Myrna Lake, who died last November from complications of heart disease, I recall her performance one night at Harlem's Lenox Lounge. That Friday, September 22, 2006, the Zebra Room sported the same black and white pattern that Billie Holiday saw when she was a frequent visitor—the place where her photo now hung over her favorite table, an inspiration to every singer.
Lake, a mature, down-to-earth vocalist, who after years of playing Sunday Brunches with bassist Jimmy Butts at the downtown Cajun Restaurant, was in rare form, smiling and joking with an audience of friends, as she opened the second show with "Say It Isn't So, My Darling." Pianist Ed Stout, a tall, athletic no-haired man with a distinguished white beard, nicely interpreted the melody and gave drummer Rudy Lawless—who retained the look of his days as a hip cat, full-bearded with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, eyeglasses and a permanent smile during every solo—an opportunity to trade fours. Standing between them and holding up his beautiful sounding string bass was Michael Fleming, also beaming as he held the trio together.

Tonight a redhead, Lake was wearing a black velvet V-neck long sleeved top over silver gray slacks with dance pumps that allowed her to move about as she sang Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," up-tempo. "Once in a While," "Give Me the Simple Life," and "Green Mashed Potatoes" followed. "You've Changed" preceded a swinging "Sophisticated Lady," and then came a dramatic "Besame Mucho," the recognizable pop tune whose Spanish lyrics she translated to "I want to... don't be afraid to kiss me some more."

For her encore, she sang "You Are My Sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray..." and her smile was even warmer. Appropriately, encore number two was "This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship," but yet another was required. Muddy Waters' "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" took her back to her roots as a blues singer and left us wanting to hear more of her voice from that time long gone by.

Photo Credit

Norm Harris

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