Singers Ross and Andrews Spice Up ‘Heaven on Earth’
“Bebop Heaven on Earth,” a Jazz Bakery production at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Sunday night, turned out to be a bit more down to earth than expected. Joe Williams, one of the two headliners with Annie Ross, was unable to make the date, reportedly due to “respiratory problems” that made it impossible for him to make a plane flight from his home in Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
Williams was replaced, on very short notice, by singers Bill Henderson and Ernie Andrews.
Henderson, working with longtime partner pianist Mike Melvoin, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Paul Humphrey, offered up a brief set, ranging from a ballad rendering of “Sentimental Lady” to his own set of variations on the Williams-associated tune “Smack Dab in the Middle.”
But it was Andrews who roused the capacity audience. Concentrating on blues, he was the consummate entertainer, his presentation harking back to a time when jazz artists were capable of being communicative as well as creative. On Charlie Parker’s classic “K.C. Blues,” Andrews not only sang lyrics to the instrumental line, he also tossed in impressionistic references to singers such as Charles Brown and Ivie Anderson. And, on a smoothly lyrical ballad, he mustered up a full range of swooping, resonant, Billy Eckstine-tinged tones.
Ross is best known for her work with the classic vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. And she spiced her set with one or two tunes--"Come On Home” was one--revealing that she is still fully capable of singing the rapid-fire, melodically convoluted phrasing she did so effectively in the early ‘60s.
But Ross’ wide-ranging set took her in other directions, as well. Her renderings of “Lush Life” and “It Had to Be You,” for example, underscored her dramatic ability to bring life and meaning to a lyric, to tell a story with a song. And with “Twisted,” the tune that has given her writing some pop visibility (via versions by Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler), she placed the number squarely into its jazz roots, adding her similarly inventive lyrics to Art Farmer’s “Farmer’s Market” for good measure.
The evening opened with a bop-drenched set by an ensemble that included, in addition to Simpkins and Humphrey, pianist Gerald Wiggins, saxophonists Lanny Morgan and Med Flory and trumpeter Conte Candoli.