Jennifer Graham

North Shore Center of Performing Arts, Skokie,IL

Jennifer Graham
Jennifer Graham

Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2010

What can one expect when one of the world's greatest young trumpeter join forces with one of Chicago's BEST "unknown" vocalist?....... Simply a spectacular two plus hour performance.

On October 10th, vocalist Jennifer Graham held one of her tooooooo infrequent concerts at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts in Skokie, celebrating 10 years of such performances. To complement her performance, Jennifer solicited the assistance of her long time friend Maurice Brown to return to Chicago to direct an all star band consisting of pianist Bradley Williams, drummer Leon Joyce, Jr., percussionist Greg Penn, and bassist Harrision Bankhead.

Maurice led his bandmates with a couple of standards, "Sidewinder" and "Softly as in the Morning Sunrise" as the ensemble warmed things up for Jennifer. Maurice quickly demonstrated on "Sunrise" why he's considered one of America's outstanding young trumpeters as he early on played with a valiant spirit, whipping up an interactive whirlwind behind him. Joyce, took advantage of his extended solo unleashing the first of many beautiful sounds on his drums that he exhibited throughout this performance.

Jennifer is a story teller and with her charm, charisma, and style usually sets up each song with a story. This enables her to immediately captivate the attention of this appreciative audience. This first set included "Let Me Love You," "Them There Eyes," and "All of Me." With Maurice by her side, she playfully talks to the audience while "teasing" Maurice with some sensuous lyrics. All present love her method of delivery and respond with raucous ovations after each number.

Percussionist Greg Penn was working overtime in the background with all his "bells and whistles" on "Body and Soul" as Jennifer and Maurice serenaded the audience. They were so convincing on this beautiful ballad that they had Maurice blushing.

Jennifer's performances usually includes a number or two from Duke Ellington's song book and "Take The A Train" gave each ensemble member an opportunity to stretch and express themselves. Maurice used his space to hit those stratospheric notes that only a few horn player would dare attempt.

To pay homage to this 10th anniversary of these programs, Jennifer closed out the first set by inviting former band members of her group Savoy, pianist Roy Williams, bassist Romell Davis and drummer Danny Day to the stage to accompany her on "Inseparable."

The band began the 2nd set with "Merry Go Round," taken from Maurice's highly acclaimed Cycle of Love CD. This was one of ten songs written by Maurice on his "sophomore" studio CD.

Another Ellington number, "Caravan," demonstrated the "chemistry" between Jennifer and Maurice. These two work so well together and one would think they perform together daily instead of just annually.

Jennifer "spiced" up this set with a sassy bluesy version of "Is You Is, or Is You Aint My Baby." This mature crowd seemed to really enjoy and identify with this number. Gotta have some blues to make the night right.

Other features of the night included a duet with guest vocalist Laverne Bradley on "Sentimental Journey" and her ever popular "Soul Train" segment which allows audience members to demonstrate their "Old School" dance moves on the stage. This year's "contestants" included Maurice's father, who never misses an opportunity to support his son whenever he returns to Chicago. Not to be upstaged, Jennifer even encouraged the band members to participate. All was done in fun and Jennifer awarded audience members with gift bags.

This listener particularly enjoyed Jennifer's rendition of Nancy Wilson's signature song, "Guess Who I Saw Today." She playfully acted this number out with Maurice without committing musical sacrilege. Dianh Washington's "What A Difference a Day Make" was also a crowd favorite.

Jennifer closed out the regular portion of her show with what has become a tradition. She sang "Unchained Melody," dedicated to her parents who have been married for 51 years. A very touching and appropriate manner in which to conclude an exceptional evening of music.

This listener will again encourage this lady with such a sparkling vocal instrument that's clear, firm and enviably focused to share this gift on a more frequent occurrence with the the greater Chicago-land audience. Let's hope this comes to fruition but in the meantime visit her website at www.myspace.com/jeniifergrahamjazzyfor information pertaining to her new CD entitled Jazz Looking Back.

Jennifer Graham

Maurice Brown

Greg Penn

Harrison Bankhead

Leon Joyce, Jr.

Jennifer Graham & Laverne Bradley

Romell Davis

Tony Goldman MC

Bradley Williams

Mr. Brown - Maurice's father

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