Singer Evelyn Thomas, best known for 1980s hit songs in Europe's disco and Hi-NRG dance club genre, is revisiting her roots as a singer. While not abandoning her dance music work, she has gone back to jazz. And she’s loving it.
Thomas made her local jazz debut Saturday night, September 13, at JD’s Bistro & Grille in Port Charlotte FL with her backing trio. She drew an enthusiastic audience for her blend of material from the canon of jazz standards, the Great American Songbook, and what we might call new standard fare: pop-associated material richly deserving of jazz treatments. Last night, JD’s had the feel and temperature of a fine New York supper club, a venue where Thomas and her backing trio plan to be Saturday night regulars.
Thomas’s spot-on vocals and her approach to her material reveal her influences from her early years as developing singer: particularly Nancy Wilson. The second set included Murray Grand’s haunting, lovelorn ballad “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which was a jazz vocal hit for Wilson in 1960. Other treats: her takes on the Shirley Horn- and Joe Williams-associated “Here’s to Life,” and one of those newer standards, “When October Goes” a 1984 Barry Manilow hit that combined his music with lyrics by the late Johnny Mercer.
Chicago-native Thomas has lived in southwest Florida for the past 21 years, using Port Charlotte as home base for her occasional disco-related tours to Europe as well as U.S. gigs. But she hadn’t immersed herself in the rather healthy local jazz scene – until now.
“I still love that world (disco and Hi-NRG),” Thomas told me. “When they call, I’ve got to go (back to the world of dance clubs and disco balls), but I’m loving this too. I never left jazz, but now I’m doing more of it."
Thomas’s trio included her husband, Anthony Simpson (piano), Mark Fitzpatrick (electric bass) and Bob Ryan (drums). Their support was excellent.