Luckily, the near-capacity crowd of 500 at the five-hour tribute to Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson at the Biltmore Bowl downtown Friday wasn't subjected to endless versions of such Vinson classics as "Cherry Red." Instead, the all-star lineup from the local jazz and blues community paid homage by presenting takes on the jazzy blues sound that marked the music of the late saxophonist-vocalist, who died this summer of a heart attack at 70.
Ever dapper in a canary-yellow cap and matching shoes, violinist Papa John Creach's mellow swing on "Don't Get Around Much Any More" generated the evening's first sparks. But it was his bravura rendition of "Georgia on My Mind," complete with sly glissandi and soulful dynamic shifts, that brought the house to its feet.
Teddy Edwards' quartet kept the fire kindled with a mid-tempo blues and ballad which displayed the tenor saxophonist's absolute command of every aspect of his presentation.
Edwards' quartet also backed second cousins Diane and Jimmy Witherspoon. The latter offered three blues standards to an uproarious response after Diane, in her first local appearance, made an impressive mark with new lyrics for "Roxanne," an obscure Vinson instrumental ballad. Now that's the way to keep an artist's music alive and vital.
After that, only vocalist Marla Gibbs' touching elegy to all jazz and blues musicians who have passed on came close to recapturing the emotional force of those peaks.