There’s a lot that goes into being a great jazz vocalist. Not only do you have to have a fantastic voice, a deep understanding of the music, and an appreciation for those who have preceded you, but you also have to have a way with your audience. You have to be inviting and engaging, and you have to have all the charm to make them want to listen to every word you speak or sing. As with all performers, a vocalist’s job starts as soon as she/he walks on stage, but unlike instrumental musicians, there is no hiding behind an instrument or even the band. Jackie Ryan is a great jazz vocalist. She has a way of balancing great music with inviting conversation between pieces, all while being charismatic and engaging. Promoting her new album Listen Here, Ryan gave an intimate performance showcasing the huge scope of her vocal influences and talents. From her smooth rendition of “Please Send Me Someone to Love” to her sultry version of “Besame Mucho,” she demonstrates impeccable control, and excellent range. What is more, she not only delivers her music excellently, but above all, has a great love of the writers and singers who have come before her, with seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of some of the pieces.
As great as Ryan is, I’d be remiss not to mention the trio working behind her. Some bands work well because a group has worked together so long that they know each other’s every habit and stylistic wrinkle; others work well because they’re comprised of monster musicians. Xavier Davis (piano), Greg Feingold (bass), and Neal Smith (drums) make up the latter category. Each had a way of demonstrating his own abilities while still complimenting Ryan’s vocals. Davis has incredible subtlety and is able to work his own lines into standards while still maintaining the feel of every song. Smith has fantastic flare and is one of those drummers which every band covets because of his stability, along with his ability to take the spotlight whenever the time comes. Finally, Feingold is a special breed of bassist who truly understands what a bass is capable of and demonstrates the possibilities of what is often an underappreciated instrument. Simply, these four are all amazing at what they do and if you get a chance to see any of them, take advantage of it.
~ Bobby Ortega (blues guitarist, graduate student at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology)