Nicknamed "Sweet Nancy, the Baby" by Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson last night performed 10 songs from her more than 70 albums at New York's Allen Room, quickly turning a staid audience into a room of howling, shouting fans. Dressed in a pearl heel-length gown with a scoop neck, Nancy was in perfect form, working her warm bag of stage tricks honed after years of entertaining at top clubs, lounges and main rooms at resorts.
Nancy is truly a national treasure and as much an actress as she is a polished singer. A comment here and a remark there from Nancy quickly escalate into a full-blown conversation with her audience—and the audience talks back. By working the room this way, a large space shrinks very quickly as individuals get the feeling she is talking directly to them.
Backed by her long-time trio—Llew Matthews on piano, John Williams on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums—Nancy showed much of her original flare by mixing an impeccable sense of swing with earthy soul and spot-on delivery, complete with her signature breaking notes. Her years as a television actress also allows her to play to her fans, making lyrics come alive and exchanges between songs seem spontaneous and conversational.
At the 7:30 p.m. show, Nancy performed Van Morrison's Moondance, I Wish I'd Met You (dedicated to her late husband from her R.S.V.P. album), Duke Ellington's Take Love Easy, a rousing Don't Go to Strangers, Never Will I Marry (from her album with Adderley), Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me, Day In Day Out, Guess Who I Saw Today (which she performs at every show) and I Thought About You.
Then she asked the audience for requests, which brought a hailstorm of called-out choices, many shouting requests two and three times. This parlor trick worked perfectly, since the encore selections must have been already chosen. Nancy sang This Masquerade Is Over (also from her Adderley album) and her Grammy winner from 1964, How Glad I Am. Two weeks ago during a phone conversation, Nancy told me that everyone had discouraged her from recording the song originally, feeling it was too pop and out of character for her. "I knew it was going to be a hit, so I insisted," she said. "And it was."
If you missed my conversation with Nancy in Friday's Wall Street Journal, you'll find it here.
Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room, with its famed massive glass window looking down on Central Park, was the perfect backdrop for Nancy's regal poise. Though one was left wondering why Allen Room ushers insisted on showing latecomers to seats throughout the show (almost right up to the last song), continually breaking the mood for those who had left their homes on time.
Thelonious Monk. WKCR presents its annual Thelonious Monk Birthday Broadcast, which starts today and runs for 24 hours. To listen on your computer from anywhere in the world, go here.
Scott Robinson. Jazz musician Bill Kirchner will feature the recordings of Scott Robinson [pictured] tonight on his Jazz From The Archives show presented by Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies. Robinson plays saxophones, flutes, clarinets, trumpet, trombone and theremin. Recording will include sessions with orchestras led by Bob Brookmeyer, Tom Pierson and Maria Schneider. Bill's show airs from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT). To listen on your computer from anywhere in the world, go here.
CD discoveries of the week. As free jazz goes, the New York Contemporary Five played a short-lived albeit fascinating role in its development. The NYC5 was cooperative group, meaning there was no leader. The group recorded only twice—both times in Copenhagen in late 1963 and early 1964. The NYC5 featured Archie Shepp on tenor sax, Don Cherry on cornet, John Tchicai on alto sax, Don Moore on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. Cherry was the group's most seasoned player, having been a founding member of the free jazz movement five years earlier. By the time this album was made, Cherry had recorded with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Shepp was still forming his style. Mind you, I'm not a huge fan of free jazz. But this album is captivating as an exponent of the raw energy and new radicalism emerging in jazz during the period.
Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five (Delmark) can be found at iTunes or here.
Dave Frank plays solo piano on Portrait of New York. I was not familiar with Frank before receiving this CD. At first I thought this was just another jazz piano album—until I heard Frank's ballad work. He has an ability to grow introspective and moody without becoming lost in a song. Much can be said for how he moves horizontally, with wide chord voicings and strong pedal tones that keep you engaged.
Two prime examples are This Nearly Was Mine (Richard Rodgers) or George Gershwin's My Man's Gone Now. I hope his next album is a collection of offbeat ballads by American Songbook composers.
You'll find David Frank's Portrait of New York (Jazzheads) here.
Oddball album cover of the week. There's nothing odd about the art direction here—except for the mere pairing of these two. I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw the cover with my own eyes. I must confess that I have not heard this one, but I suspect two songs are in a dead heat for the album's worst track: Green Tambourine and Spooky.