Story and Photos by James Walker
It turned out exactly as this writer had anticipated!!!! A large crowd with many having to be turned away at the door. The crowd began arriving shortly after 6pm for the weekly 7:30pm Checker Jazz set that's sponsored by the Hyde Park Jazz Society. This writer had warned jazz fans to arrive early if they expected to be seated for this long awaited "CD" release party to celebrate Dee's critically acclaimed new release, Wild is The Wind. This piece of extraordinary work by the reigning "queen" of Chicago jazz received an unprecendented 5 star rating in the June issue of Downbeat Magagine. Such a rating is extremely unusual. There were 30 reviews in that issue and Dee's was the LONE 5 star rated masterpiece. Downbeat has been in business about 75 years and they are never charitable with their ratings.
Just as the CD is an exceptional accomplishment by Ms. Alexander, so was this three hour evening of music by Dee and her esteem trio consisting of drummer Ernie Adams, bassist Harrison Bankhead, and her long time musical director Miguel de la Cema. For those familiar with these masterful musicians, they seldom , if ever, disappoint.
One could easily describe this set in one word and leave it at that. Awesome!!!. But allow me to describe to you in a few paragraphs how this group throughly entertained this SRO Checker Jazz crowd with selections from the new CD, in addition to her standard tribute to "Nina"(Simone), "Sarah"(Vaughn), and "Dianah"(Washington). Dee never fails to give homage to those who paved the way for her and other vocalists to keep the beautiful sounds of yesterday forever in the thoughts and minds of Jazz fans worldwide.
The first set consisted primiarly of selections from Wild is the Wind, including "Rossignol", "This Bitter Earth", "You and I", and"See You on the Other Side". With most of these songs, Dee enlightened the audience with anecdotes about the song or her journey.
"Rossignol" as described by Dee, is an African bird that sings and fly at night. Well, on this night, that was an appropriate selection because she was singing and "flying" all night long to the delight of this appreciative crowd. She took her time , allowed her all star trio to showcase their many skills and was as relaxed and charming as this writer has ever seen her. On this number, Miguel displayed his capabilities with the first of many exceptional solos on the keyboard. When afforded the opportunity, he really shines. Of course the master of the drum kit always excells as he did following Miguel using sticks, brushes, hands, fingers , elbows on his trademark "assault" of the "skins". He received rousing ovations from the crowd throughout the evening. Dee ,as only she can do, "chirped" like a Rossignol on this selection.
Dinah's "This Bitter Earth" was done with conviction and emotion. Dee seldom does a show without this crowd pleaser. Not only does she pay tribute to the "Divas" of Jazz, she gives respect to her mentor, the late "Light "Henry Huff, who inspired and challenged her early on in her career. She rendered two selections dedicated to "Light"; "See You On The Other Side" and "You and I". She paints a picture with these songs allowing one to hear
each distinct word while visualizing the picture she's painting. As Miguel soloed on "See You, bassist Bankhead was working overtime in the background. It was a beautiful sight and sound.
Highlights of the second set included their rendention of "Butterfly" where Miguel again was simply spectaculiar, and Bankhead's usage of the bow was a nice complement to Dee's singing and chirping. This was a very spirited number and she was "feeling"it.
Violinist James Sanders joined the group for a couple of numbers. He soloed a long intro to "Long Road Ahead", one of the two numbers he recorded with the group on the CD. This number was co-writted by Dee and Bankhead. They followed up that song with Abby Lincoln's "Lonesome Lover", which really gave Sanders his time to shine.
This wonderful evening of music was concluded with Malachi Thompson's "Surrender Your Love" and Sarah's "Key Largo". Malachi was another one of Dee's mentors and she never forgets his contribution to her career.
It's close to 11:30pm as Dee concludes this engaging evening of song. Usually by now , most of the crowd has dispersed, but on this special occasion, no one wanted the show to end. What a special night!!
The next edition of Checker Jazz will take place this Sunday at the International House at 1414 E. 59th St.,featuring saxophonist Richie Cole with guitarist Henry Johnson, drummer Ernie Adams, and bassist Aaron Mittler. Sounds like another early arrival night. This set begins at 7pm instead of 7:30pm.
For detailed information about future Checker Jazz sets, refer to their Web site at www.checkerjazz.org.