Review: Jazz 
singers continue 
form in fine fashion

Written by

Jay Harvey
jay.harvey@indystar.com

Mar 27, 2011|

The tradition of jazz singing, which may have preceded instrumental jazz, continues to thrive in the music's second century.

Three Generations of Divas was sufficient indication of that fact Saturday night at the Palladium at Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts.The currently active generations of female vocalists who swing when they sing were represented in the inaugural season's Jazz Roots series by Dianne Reeves, Jane 
Monheit and Nikki Yanofsky.

Yanofsky is a Canadian phenomenon who has several years of concert experience behind her at the tender age of 17. The lithe vocalist, whose singing voice sounds at least decade older than her speaking voice, got things off to a spirited start with a short set, accompanied by a piano-bass-guitar-drums quartet. Her set was notable for a lickety-split "Air Mail Special," an Ella Fitzgerald tribute that showed off Yanofsky's scatting facility. She warmed up for that with a jocular run 
through the children's nursery song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."At this point in her career, Yanofsky seems most comfortable with up-tempo numbers: Her "I Got Rhythm" was stylish and snappy, 
but her "Someone to Watch Over Me" was sweet but somewhat generic in its interpretation.

Jane Monheit, whose rise to prominence just over a decade ago was almost as meteoric as Yanofsky's, was an instructive balladeer, capable of a lot of wistfulness even when the tempo kicks up a bit, as in 
"While We're Young."She showed her mastery of cheerful songs in "When There's a Shine on Your Shoes," which featured a peppy piano solo by Michael Kanan. The boppish "Twisted" didn't make a strong impression because its witty lyrics couldn't be heard clearly. Monheit, who has taken to a bit of 
mannered slurring in her delivery that you won't hear on her debut CD, sounded clearest in an unaccompanied version of the title song from that CD, "Never Never Land," which segued into a brilliantly 
effective finale, "Over the Rainbow."

Just as I was beginning to question the Palladium's vaunted acoustics, along came Reeves with a set in which every word was clear -- and not because she attempts a songbook literalness, either. This seasoned singer is as imaginative a jazz singer as you'll find today, and her line soars and dips as virtuosically as the sainted Sarah Vaughan's. With her all-star trio providing a moody introduction, Reeves 
entered with "The Twelfth of Never," following it up with the yearning plea of "A Social Call."She chose to do a lot of her oral program notes in sung form, which was delightful, especially when she explained in mid-tune how a Spanish-sounding tune of sensuous feeling arose from a mesmerizing singer Reeves heard on TV while visiting Barcelona. Reeves got the house rocking with an original song in honor of her 86-year-old mother, apparently a hard-working, advance-planning optimist. The song moved toward into a churchy vibe that was soulful from the inside out, not a hokey stylistic importation. The trio -- pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Terreon Gully -- ramped up the intensity behind her.