Tapas 7232 Music on Madison
May 18th 2013
7232 West Madison
Forest Park, Ill 60130
Cost: No Cover
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Listening Room at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park
May 18th 2013
401 Country Club Rd
Crystal Lake, Ill 60001
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During the course of her nearly six-decade long career, Ella Jane Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” won 13 Grammy Awards, sold over forty million albums, was inducted into the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame and received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush. Fitzgerald gave listeners worldwide a total package that combined impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, a vocal range spanning three octaves (Db3 to Db6), and phenomenal scat-singing and improvisation ability that is often referred to as “horn-like.”
To celebrate and offer tribute to the memory and undeniable legacy of Fitzgerald, three of Chicago’s top veteran female vocalists have combined their talents and created a musical revue entitled “Three Ellas,” which they have performed nationwide for the past five years. In early December 2011, Spider Saloff, Dee Alexander and Freida Lee brought “Three Ellas” to Katerina’s Supper Club (1920 West Irving Park Road) delighting a sold-out capacity audience.
Charming, provocative, multi-talented and nationally recognized Chicago resident Spider Saloff was no stranger to the audience at Katerina’s, where she appears regularly. And who more appropriate than a past winner of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets MAC award for Best Female Jazz Vocalist to participate in this Fitzgerald tribute?
Contributing her unique perspective on Fitzgerald from her background as both a touring vocalist with Joe Williams, Kevin Mahogany, and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra as well as an educator with the Chicago Board of Education is the sassy and clever Freida Lee.
Named “Best Singer” by Chicago magazine for 2009 and “Chicagoan of the Year” for 2007 by the Chicago Tribune, Dee Alexander is renowned for her overall musical versatility as well as exceptional scatting ability. Her recent recording Wild Is The Wind received a five-star rating from Downbeat magazine.
Saloff began the program a few minutes later than scheduled as management and wait-staff struggled to find tables and seating for a swelling audience, apparently delayed by in-bound traffic. Set to expertly support Saloff and in turn Lee and Alexander were a pair of Chicago’s very best instrumentalists, Jeremy Kahn piano and Jim Cox on upright bass. When she did begin, Saloff set what I found to be a somewhat surprising though not unappealing tone for the evening by dispensing with her usual amusing historical jazz annotations for each song (practically a Saloff trademark) in favor of letting the fine music speak for itself. And it did.
Offering a couple of musical highlights right from the start, Saloff gave charm and warmth to “Prelude To a Kiss” (Ellington, Mills and Gordon) and a swinging “How High The Moon” (Hamilton and Lewis), during which Saloff moved effortlessly between the lyrics and extended portions of skillful scatting. Later in the performance, Saloff re-created Ella’s famous (infamous?) Berlin performance of “Mack The Knife” (Weill and Brecht) complete with Ella’s “improvised” lyric.
Frieda Lee began her portion of the program with a smooth and silky rendition of “But Not For Me” (George and Ira Gershwin), highlighted by her great phrasing. In a magnanimous gesture not always seen during a carefully planned program such as this, Lee accepted a request for the unscheduled “Embraceable You” (G. and I. Gershwin) for which she slowed the tempo to give a deliberate and touching treatment. Ellas own “Shiny Stockings” (Foster and Fitzgerald) offered Lee the opportunity to showcase her own formidable scatting talent and she made the most of it.
The loudest applause of the evening went to Dee Alexander and her slow, sad, sympathetic version of “I’ve Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” (Ellington and Webster), which showcased the tight control Alexander can exercise over her powerful voice as required. After this song, she commented, “I gave myself a chill.” and the audience erupted in applause again. Her “Blue Skies” (Rodgers and Hart) was a virtual clinic on how to make a song swing through scatting. Kahn and Cox helped Alexander bring a ragtime feel to “Nice Work if You Can Get It” (G. & I. Gershwin).
This presentation succeeds on a variety of levels because “Three Ellas” is a celebration of Fitzgerald rather than an attempt to imitate her, as three or three hundred vocalists would not be up to the task. Possessing and sharing what is obviously serious admiration for both Fitzgerald and her body of work, Saloff, Lee, and Alexander have created in “Three Ellas” a “must see” musical revue that I am sure will be pleasing audiences everywhere for many years to come.
For more information contact: katerinas.com.
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