Wednesday 30 May 2012

New York New York - super jazz with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Yaala Ballin

17 years after my first visit to New York, I am here again. I intend to complete a couple of posts from here, but first a couple of great jazz performances from the last few days.

I am just back from the Blue Note and Dee Dee Bridgewater's birthday concert. This the third time I have had the privilege of hearing Miss Bridgewater live and I have to say its the best so far. On the previous two occasions (Ranana in Israel and Ronnie Scott's in London) she was of course fantastic and performed songs from her Eleonora Fagin album - a tribute to Billie Holiday. She included a song from this album tonight -  a mean and dirty version of "Fine and mellow" that began with some humorous interplay with bass player Kenny Davis who she featured in this number. Her voice sounded better and stronger than ever as she worked her way through a lengthy version of this classic with great contributions from Craig Handy on sax and from young find - Theo Croker on trumpet (more about him later).

The divine Miss Bridgewater is indisputably one of the all time greats as a performer, but she is also a nice lady - interacting with the audience, joking, encouraging more and louder applause and performing an encore for another Dee Dee in the audience who claimed today to be her birthday too! Her career has been long and sometimes difficult but tonight we saw an artist at the pinnacle of her career (so far of course!).

The programme was an eclectic mixture of ballads and more upbeat numbers as she treated us to a cool version of "Besame Mucho" (slight stumble over the Spanish lyrics, but we loved her enough for it not to matter - and she is confident enough to draw attention to it and carry on!), an uptempo "Compared to what?" from her Malian Journey project, "Music is the magic" from a forthcoming project of now deceased jazz vocalist, song writer and civil rights activist, Abby Lincoln's songs (look out for a new album) and an outrageously bluesy version of the old Aretha Franklin song "Doctor Feelgood".

All great, but for the me the absolute highlight was her rendition of Nancy Wilson's "Save your love for me". This one featured the aforementioned Mr Theo Croker on trumpet. He was also a bit of a star, invited to join the band for this number and then staying on for the rest of the evening, Dee Dee told us that he arranged this one and that it will be on his first album which is coming soon. I seriously hope she is guesting for him on this track as I had to hold my chest during the performance and if I hadn't had my hair cut earlier in the day, the hairs on the back of my neck would have been standing up. Phew!

I seriously think our Dee Dee is the best live jazz vocalist around at the moment  - fearless, innovative, great range and very happy to feature the band as well as herself. Edsell Gomez as ever was great on piano and as musical director and watch out for one Gabe Durand, also introduced to the Blue Note this evening and a talented guitarist. He has a famous mum - Dee Dee Bridegwater. Thank you Miss B - my best night in New York so far!

This was my second concert of the week having been to Smalls in Greenwich Village on Saturday night to hear Yaala Ballin, a young Israeli vocalist. Yaala has been living in New York for eight years now, has recorded two albums (I've got them both - nice mixtures of standards and a couple of new songs) - and has clearly built up a following during her time in the Big Apple as there was standing room only on what was a Memorial Day weekend and a hot rainy night too.

Her style is very relaxed, she tells a good story to introduce songs. I liked the idea that her grandfather insisted they were related to Irving Berlin (they aren't) and also the obvious delight she displayed at discovering some great songs from days gone by. Her song choices for the evening included "I cried for you", "Baby get lost" (my favourite of the evening), "Change partners" and a couple of bluesy versions of Dinah Washington's "Evil gal blues" and "I could write a book". Her second album "On the road" is well worth a listen...or even to buy!

Two great sets and great value - just $20 entrance fee and no minimum bar charge unlike several other New York venues. Speaking of venues, Small's and the Blue Note couldn't be more different. Smalls is an intimate basement bar with super friendly bar staff (Erin and Rebecca on the night I was there), an obvious regular clientele and a really welcoming atmosphere. The Blue Note is bigger, draws an older audience and is not cheap, although to be fair the price of entry at $35 was excellent value and cheaper than Ronnie Scott's for a top line act. The food and drink is over-priced though and of questionable quality - I have never understood why so many of the top jazz clubs around the world offer such poor quality dining at such high prices. Can't be because they want to take advantage of their guests, can it?

But nothing takes away from a fantastic birthday celebration with Dee Dee Bridgewater and a very 'cool' evening with Yaala Ballin. New York, New's good to be back!


  1. Adrian Dee Dee is performing in Melbourne soon - you just convinced me to go!

    regards Robin