Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr.
It's not often that this listener is left breathless after an impressive concert, but that indeed was the scenario after experiencing vocalist Jennifer Graham's concert at the Historic DuSable Museum of African American History on the City's Southside. Adjectives could never adequately describe her spellbinding performance at this self produced concert before a near capacity crowd.
Having never seen this "Diva" perform before, this listener wasn't sure what to expect.Needless to say, she easily exceeded this listener's expectations. One should have garnered a hint of what was to occur when her bandmates consisted of keyboardist Bradley Williams, bassist Chuck Webb, drummer Leon Joyce, Jr. and world renowned trumpeter Maurice "Mobetta" Brown. Maurice flew in from New York to "fill" in for his good friend Corey Wilkes, who is on a six week European tour.
Maurice and his bandmates didn't wait long before jumping into a couple of introductory selections with each warming the crowd with extended solos. Joyce's solo was a crowd pleaser. At that point , the star of the show gracefully stroll onto the stage, attired in a beautiful blue satin dress and red shoes singing the tune "The Best Is Yet To Come." And how prophetic she was as the best was indeed yet to come.
Throughout the entire first set, Jennifer was engaging, charismatic,and charming as she sang primarily from the "standard" songbook. She doesn't just sing, she tells a "story" to the audience with effect, emotion and conviction. On each number, Maurice gracefully accompanied her as if they were absorbed in conversation. It was a beautiful sight.
During this performance, Jennifer interacted with the audience in between songs. She was so relaxed and "at home" and had the crowd "in the palm of her hand." This wasn't just another concert, it was a one person production with a magnificent band accompanying her.
One of the first half's highlights occured when she sang "When Somebody Loves You" with only piano accompaniment. It was during this selection that one was able to truly appreciate her range and strength. She could have easily done this number a capella with the same splendid result. This was followed by a stirring rendition of "At Last," with Maurice again demonstrating why he's considered one of this country most talented trumpeter. He's soooooooooooo good.!!!!!!!!
This classy songbird concluded the first half by inviting audience members to the stage to demonstrate their dancing skills. Each was rewarded with a "gift basket", complements of Ms. Graham.
The 2nd half began with the band rendering an explosive version of "People Make The World Go Round," as Leon Joyce, Jr. was at his best with his rapid fire fleet hands. Jennifer followed with a sultry rendition of "Them Their Eyes." Her delivery of a song is so convincing and she does it with style. "Fine Brown Thang" was next on her agenda as she again demonstrated "class" by presenting roses to some of the men in audience (including her father). What a nice touch!!
Pianist Bradley Williams showcased his soft touch on the 88s while Jennifer covered Peggy Lee's "Cry Me A River." Throughout this three hour extravaganza, Jennifer shared the spotlight with each ensemble member. Maurice brought the house down as he was coaxed by Jennifer to produce a "kissing" sound with his horn as he introduced Duke Ellington's "Sentimental Mood." Again, Maurice was spectacular on this number, as well on "Summertime" when he and Jennifer engaged in friendly bantering at its conclusion.
Before bringing this wonderful concert to a climatic conclusion, Jennifer invited a couple of her friends to the stage to assist as she sang "Bye Bye Blackbird". Margaret Murphy (Chuck Webb's wife) and Bradley Williams' wife favorably accorded themselves with the audience as the three seemed to really have a ball performing this number.
To conclude her show, Jennifer selected a song that her mother wanted her to sing, "Unchained Melody." She sang this song from the heart with emotion as the all star band softly played in the background. Needless to say, she left the stage to a rousing standing ovation.
What a great time that was had by all. For those of us experiencing Ms. Graham for the first time,it was a memorable evening. And as evidenced by the large turnout on this Sunday evening , her fans were there expecting exacting what they received, three hours of pure exhilarating excitement that was produced by one of Chicago's finest songstress. This listener highly recommends her to all discerning jazz lovers. You won't regret it!!!!!!!