By Don Heckman
The Siskiyou Music Project presented another of its engaging events recently in the woodland setting of Ashland’s Old Siskiyou Barn. The stars of this colorful evening of vocal and piano jazz featured singer Nancy Harms and the Jeremy Siskind Trio.
In the world of music overflowing with songstresses, the unique talents of Nancy Harms were on full display from the moment she first walked on stage.
There are jazz singers who simply offer the original words and music of a song. Others focus on the melody, adapting or altering it in their own improvisation. And there are those who embrace the tales told in the lyrics, emphasize the words, viewing themselves as storytellers, sometimes at the cost of a familiar tune.
Nancy Harms does much more. In her own unique fashion, whatever song she chose was transformed by her creative expression. The results were musical magic, enhanced by the supportive backing and brisk swing of the Jeremy Siskind Trio.
That said, I must also mention Nancy’s remarkable choice of songs for her performance. And what she did with them. There was, first of all, a broad selection from the Duke Ellington song book. Basic thought in the jazz world says that you can’t go wrong with an Ellington tune.
And the evidence was apparent in what Nancy did with Ellington classics as “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” “Reflections in D,” “Rocks in My Bed,” “I Like the Sun Rise,” “Just Squeeze Me” “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me,” and more Ellington. Most were familiar, some were not. Like all Ellington, every note was memorable.
The balance of the program was equally fascinating, including more Ellington, as well as Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Lush Life” and “Strange Feeling” (written with Ellington). Add to that such Great American Song Book Classics as “Troubled Waters,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” and original songs by Nancy Harms and Jeremy Siskind.
Getting down to roots, Nancy’s show was a banquet of musical riches. After the closing numbers what remained was the feeling of having seen and heard a singer whose work transcends the familiar and opens the door to new experiences.
If you haven’t yet heard the singing of Nancy Harms, immediately find her latest album, Ellington At Night.
And kudos again to Ed Dunsavage, Artistic Director of the Siskiyou Music Project for bringing Nancy Harms back for a return visit and another full house. A winning musical evening for everyone.