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Miss Justine: Jazz Appreciation Month Event at Bob and Barbara’s Lounge

Miss Justine: Jazz Appreciation Month Event at Bob and Barbara’s Lounge

Courtesy Bruce Turner


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Miss Justine
Philadelphia Jazz Legacy Project and the Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy
Bob and Barbara's Lounge
Philadelphia, PA
April 23, 2023

Vocalist Miss Justine (full name Justine Keeys) is a Philadelphia phenomenon. She has a unique mastery of the jazz idiom, faithful to both the letter and the expressive meaning of the music. Justine has an intuitive sense of phrasing, timing, and dynamics that is never forced, but rather an expression of the song itself.

Thus, as part of the Center City Jazz Festival and Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month, well over forty years since she came up as a singer under the tutelage of the legendary pianist Gerald Price, it was wonderful to attend her show at Bob and Barbara's Lounge on South Street, a small and intimate club that has long hosted live music and other shows of diverse genres. Many of her fans were there, including iconic Philly singers like Suzanne Cloud, Joanna Pascale, and Wendy Simon who were inspired by her. Cloud, in her role as co-director of the Philadelphia Jazz Legacy Project that co-sponsored the event, served as an amiable and knowledgeable emcee. Pianist Tom Lawton, once a protégé of Gerald Price and later under the tutelage of the legendary Bernard Peiffer, has backed Miss Justine countless times and was right there with her once again. And bassist Matthew Parrish, a true master of his instrument and a Princeton University jazz faculty member frequently sought after by both vocalists and instrumentalists, provided the rhythmic pulse and a lot more.

The set began with two instrumentals: the standards "Beautiful Love" and Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You." It was a pleasure to hear Lawton and Parrish work together, providing a swinging and musically sophisticated rendition of Victor Young's 1930s tune that became a favorite of Bill Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, and other moderns, and Lawton, pianist of the Monkadelphia group, evoking Monk's angular rhythm within a swing format that gave him the rich opportunity to develop his own ideas.

Miss Justine then came on, sitting right up in front of the audience and doing "Stormy Weather" in a slow deliberate manner to highlight the many nuances of the lyrics. She then sang "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key" with enough of a Billie Holiday sensibility to evoke her presence. (It so happens that Ms. Holiday often stayed at an inn 2 blocks away at Broad and Lombard when she was in Philly.) Betty Carter's "Jazz Ain't Nothin' but Soul" gave Justine an opportunity to swing 1960s style with a touch of vocalese.

Next, a member of the audience called out for another Billie Holiday song, and Lawton suggested "Good Morning Heartache," which managed to be even sadder than Holiday's melancholic rendition. The mood became brighter again and surprised everyone with Eddie Jefferson's satiric "Benny's from Heaven," a vocalese version of "Pennies from Heaven" influenced by James Moody and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. The set concluded perfectly with lively, artful versions of "The Very Thought of You" and the rhumba "Brazil" with a nod to Anita O'Day from her time with the big bands. Especially in these last two numbers, Parrish and Lawton chimed in with delicious solo work.

Miss Justine came up with the likes of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and other musicians who visited her family and jammed with them. Ultimately, she chose to pursue her career locally, which makes her singing startling: when you hear it, you feel you are listening to an all-time great vocalist. Her CDs Tasty (Self-Produced, 1998) and The Many Moods of Miss Justine (Dreambox Media, 2004) offer a good sampling of her work.

Set List

Instrumentals: Beautiful Love; I Mean You. Vocals: Stormy Weather; Lock My Heart; Jazz Ain't Nothin' but Soul; Good Morning Heartache; Bennie's from Heaven; The Very Thought of You; Brazil.


Miss Justine: leader and vocals; Tom Lawton: piano; Matt Parrish: bass.

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