Annie Ross and Stevie Holland at The Metropolitan Room, NYC
Vaché, not to been forgotten all through the set, had been inspiring Ross with his solos, and on the next number, Dizzy Gillespie's "Oop Shoop Shoo Be Doo Be," the two joined in a scat chorus to an appreciative audience reaction. For the conclusion of the set, Ross made a daunting call by performing Jon Hendrick's original lyrics to Ellington's "Cottontail." I don't know why she felt compelled to attempt this one, which is an extremely trip-hammer lyric with which Hendricks always captured an audience' attention during the great Columbia Years of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Although Ross didn't get the whole thing down pat, she came close enough.
Following the set, I had a few minutes to chat with Ross, relating my near-misses in seeing LH&R and my disappointment in having to wait so long to see the real thing. I asked her about the importance of the 1957 Sing A Song of Basie session for ABC-Paramount and if the lyrics were cooperative or supplied primarily by Hendricks. She confirmed that, indeed, they all contributed to the tunes. She added that by this time she had enough recorded material from The Metropolitan Room session for a new album.
On the other end of the spectrum Stevie Holland, a vibrant vocalist who attracted attention with her debut album Restless Willow (150 Music, 2004), has been building a fan base with her appearances at The Metropolitan Room. Holland's in-person act gives exactly what you hear on the album a direct and exciting throwback to the age of vocalists circa 1960s when there were plenty of great voices to go around and much more room to share them with the public (unlike today's restrictive preferences and limited venues). Names like Peggy Lee, Shirley Bassey and Nancy Wilson at one time blanketed the New York area nightclubs and concert halls, basically gaining their foothold in these venues. The temper of the times was just right for them whereas nowadays singers with that talent and ability have to work four times as hard to get attention.
Stevie Holland was accompanied by pianist Kris Davis, Chris Van Voorst Van Beest, bass and Jeff Davis on drums, with arrangements by Holland's husband, Gary William Friedman, also the author of a Broadway play that I saw in the 1970s,The Me Nobody Knows. Mr. Davis had a tendency to play too loudly with his brushes on a few of the songs, but Ms. Holland's delivery is so strong that a happy balance was soon reached without any further problems.
There were a few commendable additions to the Stevie Holland set. She's very facile in working with the audience and on transition devices. After a fully charged, up-tempo "Day by Day" from the Sammy Cahn songbook, she segued immediately into a intro for "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," which really acts as the unofficial verse for the Bricusse/Newley "Pure Imagination." Great planning and, well, imagination! Holland then discussed with the audience her experience working in New York, during a less than warm May 2007, with a few minutes of what I'll call "The Less than Lusty Month of May." What follows, as one might guess, is the big ballad from Camelot, "If Ever I Would Leave You." As a preface to Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" Holland discussed those who have loved and lost.
Stevie Holland may not be the same type of jazz singer who can, or wants to, deconstruct material or to display an ability to re-invent a song written 50 years ago for a good reason. She wisely opts for the melody and harmonization which best display the lyrics as originally written. Would one put her in a corner with Norah Jones or Cassandra Wilson? It seems to me that neither one is even close. She does use jazz material like the Zoot Sims/Dave Frishberg "Red Door/In Walked Zoot" on her 2004 album quite effectively and, as you'll read about for this concert, does blowout version of "Route 66".
We learned that as a backseat passenger in the family car, Holland was a frequent singer (and sing-a- long passenger) of this song as her folks drove through vacation territory. The recording was a Mel Torme four-minute version with the Al Porcino Orchestra, on which Torme tears through the familiar tune, scatting with the instrumentalists and even doing an Ella Fitzgerald impersonation. If you can picture Holland doing the recording "live" but with strong dynamics matching and even topping Torme's and hitting ever note (melody and improvised) without a hitch every night of a stand, it's not hard to understand how she can bring down the house every time. It not only necessitates strict memorization but matching multiple harmonies and existing arrangements.