July 15, 2006


A true diva swings concert from ordinary to memorable (JOHN LITWEILER, July 15, 2006, Chicago Sun-Times)

'Bring 'em Back Alive" was an old circus-menagerie slogan, and Thursday's Millennium Park concert surely brought back popular jazz of the 1950s and '60s.

True, Henry Johnson's Organ Express quartet is from a rather younger generation, but they specialize in playing good ol' soul. And Johnny Pate was a noted 1950s Chicago bassist and bandleader before he went on to Hollywood fortune, if not exactly fame. Guitarist and sometime singer Johnson and Pate's big band works were the main features of the show, but for the crowd, the most excitement was generated by a guest who joined to sing just four songs: Nancy Wilson, who like Pate was making a rare return to our town. [...]

There were no real highs or lows to the evening before, at last, Nancy Wilson appeared, in a white pantsuit. Immediately she raised the heat and humidity with "Day In, Day Out," which she swung despite a super-fast tempo and her rat-a-tat syllables. Her style is a more dramatic variation of Dinah Washington's, with her own strange emphases and drops in volume, with a wide, slow vibrato in long tones, with momentary catches, yodels and even one falsetto climax.

Earlier, Johnson had sung the sentimental "Here's to Life." He sounded like a bland Jacques Brel, and the colorlessness of his baritone voice and style stood out like a sore when he returned to sing duets with Wilson, from their recent CD "Organic." By contrast, there was Wilson's vocal vitality -- she sang with real flair, and her varied lines and jokey ad libs carried him through two songs. Wilson has always been a singing storyteller, and this time her tales almost turned an otherwise ordinary concert into an event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2006 8:52 AM
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