Live Jazz: Judy Wexler at Vitello’s

Judy Wexler’s Jazz and Wistful Romance Warm Vitello’s

By Norton Wright

Judy Wexler, a diminutivel 4’10” package of big singing talent wow’d a rapt and sold-out audience at Vitello’s on Saturday night reprising all twelve songs on her latest CD, Under A Painted Sky. It was an emotionally moving evening, for no contemporary songstress does jazz takes on wistful or unrequited love stories like Judy. And her choice of material was both extraordinarily well researched and brave; this Vitello’s evening was not for those expecting a usual boppy romp through the Great American Song Book.

“How High The Moon” was nowhere to be found. Rather, Judy got to us early with Abbey Lincoln’s achingly beautiful composition “And How I Hoped For Your Love,” a gem rarely heard and recounting the poignant tale of love found and then suddenly lost… Soon after, there was a bluesy song by long-forgotten composer/lyicist Sunny Skylar in which an older woman longing for her younger lover, wistfully nudges him on with her plea “Don’t Wait Too Long.”

You are the summer and I am the autumn
Don’t wait too long
Your song’s beginning while mine’s nearly sung
Don’t wait too long

At which point the house realized that it was in for a night of unique jazz and drama. Judy’s selection of songs may occasionally get you weepy, especially if you’re in love — or were once but no longer.

Calling on her early career skills as a stage and TV actress, Judy explores lyrics like a screenwriter finding the heart in his/her screenplay’s dialog — and the story emerges: words and jazz music combined to move the human heart. This Vitello’s evening was like going to the movies at a Laemmle Theater for stories of substance intimately and touchingly told.

And part of Judy’s storytelling was her superb quintet, Alan Pasqua (piano & arrangements), Bob Sheppard (soprano & tenor saxes), Larry Koonse (guitar),  Darek Oles (bass), and Steve Hass (drums). There is such confidence and patience in this band, they play together seamlessly, give one another space to solo, and they support and meld with Judy as only special friends can do. The night’s performance, a tad long at 1 hour and 40 minutes of demanding, almost non-stop singing, was musically whole and satisfying: compelling material, Judy’s warm vocal style, and a quintet that was great to listen to whether backing her or soloing on its own.

Interesting to note the difference between Judy’s live performance at Vitello’s and listening to the same songs on her just-released Under A Painted Sky CD. Her live, Vitello’s performance moved quickly. At ease and comfy with this jazz cabaret crowd, she leavened the evening with some well-selected mood changers like Shirley Horn’s up-tempo “The Great City” with its urgent “Killer Joe”-evoking, piano opening.  And her playful lyric about skinny dipping on a tropical Pacific isle while waiting for “An Occasional Man” was a hoot.

But do take your time listening to Judy’s CD — all of it — in more leisurely fashion to fully experience  emotionally-layered lyrics that merit many, many, many repeated hearings — much like looking at Picasso’s paintings and finding something new every time. Get this Judy Wexler CD and continue discovering — and thanks to Vitello’s for showcasing live versions of the music on the CD so well.

To read a Q & A with Norton Wright in which he discusses his jazz-inspired paintings click HERE.


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