By Don Heckman
The Playboy Jazz Festival, as well as the lead-in to the Festival, tended to dominate our view screens here at iRoM for the last week or so. And that’s cool. It is, after all, one of the major musical events of the year.
But other music has been taking place, as well. And now that the Playboy Festival madness is over, I want to be sure to call attention to another performance that took place last Tuesday. It may not have been high visibility, and — in its single night at Vitello’s — it drew a considerably smaller crowd than the 18,000 who showed up for each of the Festival’s two days. But for listeners attuned to fine music, convincingly done, it was a memorable night.
So let’s take a look back at Tuesday, and the appearance of jazz singer Dolores Scozzesi, backed by Andy Langham, piano, Lyman Medeiros, bass, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., drums, at Vitello’s.
It became apparent, almost immediately, that there was stunning musical empathy between Scozzesi and her musicians. At its best, it recalled the kind of creative intimacy that exists in the Tierney Sutton Band, a group that’s been together for two decades.
Add to that the range of selections in the program. Scozzesi’s first few choices, reaching from “Listen Love,” a tender song by the too little acknowledged singer/songwriter of the ‘70s, Jon Lucien, to Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and such standards classics as “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul” and “What Now My Love?” underscored both her creative eclecticism and her far ranging musical interests.
As intriguing as her song choices were – also embracing such equally compelling tunes as “When Did You Leave Heaven?” “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Right Myself A Letter” and “Love Look Away” – what really mattered was what Scozzesi did with this abundant collection. Gifted with a mature, dark timbred voice, capable of using it across a rich emotional palette, she reached deeply into the heart of each song’s story. And with especially convincing intensity in an English and French version of “Autumn Leaves” that included a newly conceived segment inspired by a Stan Getz solo, with lyrics by Scozzesi. Call it a highlight in an evening of memorable songs.
I learned a long time ago that one of the most meaningful estimates of a performance’s impact often lies in the feelings it generates after the program. Sure, one wants to be captivated by the music while it’s taking place. But it’s equally important, maybe even more so, to be so stimulated by what one has heard that it stays with you, triggering new feelings and thoughts long after the performance is over.
The experience, to me, is similar to what it used to be like to see an especially impactful movie, back in the time before “films” became the operative word. In those days, coming out of a movie theatre with a companion, eagerly discussing high points in the story, re-living aspects of the plot, feeling strongly – pro or con – about what we had just seen, was an essential part of seeing a movie.
Driving home from Scozessi’s performance at Vitello’s, Faith and I experienced similar feelings, recalling the pleasure of hearing such a fine array of songs, delivered with so much musical authenticity. We even had a small disagreement, disputing whether or not Scozessi had tended to make too liberal use of her sometimes edgy chest tones. But there was no dispute over the quality of the strains of music that remained with us, soothing our ears well into the high decibel sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend.
Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Dolores Scozessi’s album, “A Special Taste.” Fortunately writing liner notes does not cause me to lose my sense of musical objectivity.