Sunday, February 24, 2013

The new jazz standard from Whitney James

Singer Whitney James came south from the St. Petersburg area Saturday for the South County Jazz Club's first concert at Lemon Bay Playhouse in Englewood FL - and it was a delight for a variety of reasons.

Whitney James
James doesn't really front the band. She's an integral part of the action - unlike the "chick singer" style of performance that we see far more frequently. And she avoids the tiredest tunes in the Great American Songbook. This is a good thing.

About half of her material came from her very fine 2010 debut CD Whisper Not; the rest coming from other jazz and popular fare delivered with polish, a bit of humor and fine interplay with her Tampa Bay-area bandmates. They are guitarist LaRue Nickelson, tenor saxophonist Jeremy Powell, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman.

For many, including me, the highlight was something most unexpected in a jazz setting, particularly with a mostly older audience. It was the band's fresh take on the Fleetwood Mac 1977 hit "Dreams." Stevie Nicks wrote the tune, which was the group's only No. 1 hit on the U.S. charts. James & Co.'s extended jazz version was stunning and memorable.

There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned American Songbook. Its tunes are timeless, but James recognizes - as do other contemporary performers - that they need to freshen jazz with newer standard fare pulled from more recent pop and rock sources. May they continue to surprise and delight us.

On the rare nights when it's not presenting plays, The 100-seat Lemon Bay Playhouse works well for this sort of jazz. Its intimacy almost feels like you're hearing live jazz in your living room. The concert was a sellout - and deservedly so.

Nickelson, Powell, Feinman, Arenas, James

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