December 11th, 2003
Second Set | 9:30PM
This is one in a series of reviews that we will be doing from the “catbird seat” at Zanzibar Blue, Philadelphia’s premiere jazz club, located at Broad and Walnut Streets in Center City. We are grateful to the Zanzibar management for their generosity and cooperation in this new venture.
Diane Schuur, twice a Grammy winner, has already earned herself a place as one of the “great ladies of jazz.” Any encomiums I might heap on her are superfluous. I fell in love with “Deedles” (as she is affectionately known by friends and fans) the first of two times I heard her at the legendary Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA. I wondered how she’d do in a more intimate nightclub setting, so I jumped at the chance to go to Zanzibar and do this review. When Zoe Ashby, one of the warm, hospitable members of the Zanzibar “family,” offered to introduce me to her, I was thrilled and honored. I went backstage to find Deedles in a trance-like state obviously going over her music in her head, indeed her whole body. I quickly found that she is “multi-tasking,” carrying on a brief, warm conversation with me while tapping her feet to some tune!
Deedles is one of those miracles of show business who is not only a consummate jazz singer, but a true entertainer who enraptures her audience, creates an aura of incredible energy that radiates in all directions, a marvel on piano and electronic organ, and a superb bandleader. She also has a comedic sense, using her husband, “Rocket” Crockett, as a submissive straight man, and at one point, doing a memorable imitation of Bob Dylan! So, despite a cold she was nursing and a bone crushing tour which included a stint at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC two days later, she put on a delight of a show that included such diverse elements as Barry Manilow tunes from her new album, Midnight, alternating with several jazz classics like “Moment’s Notice,” “I Can’t Get Started with You,” Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” “My Romance,” and Joe Williams’ signature song, “Every Day I have the Blues.”
Ms. Schuur does very well in a jazz club like Zanzibar. I assume that she began her career in club venues, so she is very familiar with them. She tones down her charisma and her intensity in just the right way to fit the more intimate acoustics and atmosphere. Her “scat” talent, her ability to vocalize like an instrument (think Lambert, Hendriks, and Ross), and her use of subtle expressive inflections go a long way in such a setting. She conveys more of a feeling of jazz history here than in concert halls. For example, in “I Can’t Get Started with You,” she succeeds in getting that contemplative late night “last-in-the-bar” sound going, with a beautiful assist from her saxophonist, Patrick Lamb, who is very good at capturing the essence of various sax icons, from Johnny Hodges and Lester Young on this tune, to Coltrane on “Moment’s Notice.” (Lamb also did a serviceable vocal duet with her on “I’ll Be There,” from the Midnight CD.) Scott Steed, her trusted bassist, and drummer Reggie Jackson (not the baseball player!) did superb backup. Steed is a fabulous bassist who has perhaps been greatly underrated (or has he downplayed himself?), a true artist on the instrument.
But the thing about Diane Schuur that is so totally captivating is her personality. She’s a totally authentic and genuine human being- there is nothing affected or “phony” about her. In this respect, she is like Charlie Parker, Trane, Joe Williams, Billie Holiday, Chris Connor, Charlie Byrd, Johnny Hartman, and some others whose life and music combined in a sincerity that is, for me, the hallmark of the best in jazz as an art form that captures our essential humanness. Bird said it all: “If you haven’t been through it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Ms. Schuur comes from somewhere deep inside herself with every note she sings.
A few words about Zanzibar Blue. This is a “high profile” club that- thanks to outstanding management- rose from it’s not-so-humble beginnings at 11th and Pine Streets to its centrally located, spacious, acoustically excellent, and totally comfortable setting at the Bellvue at Broad and Walnut Streets. The food is better than any other jazz club I’ve attended (I should say that it rivals some of the better restaurants). And the staff is both efficient and friendly. Plus, they have a really fine Steinway piano, not the tinny, out-of-tune kind that make the musicians contort and “adjust!” And Earl Brown is a terrific, articulate, suave emcee who is heavily into the music, not some “geek” who gets to hold a microphone for a few minutes and tell everyone to turn off their cellphone! This is a place that honors jazz the way it should be done. The only message I’d like to convey to them, however, is that I wish they’d feature more of the local guys like John Swana, Jimmy Bruno, Tom Lawton, Mary Ellen Desmond- the list goes on and on. Philly is home to some of the best, most creative musicians in the business, and Zanzibar is a room that can really bring out their consummate skills in a setting where the audience really listens. So, “kudos” to Diane Schuur, Zanzibar Blue, and Philly Jazz.
Visit Diane Schuur on the web at www.dianeschuur.com .