Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr.
It was a cold snowy night last Sunday,yet the music inside Room 43 was hot and
sizzling as singing sensation Joan Collaso and her all star quartet dazzled the
capacity audience for three plus hours. Joan's a seasoned entertainer who put
together a tribute to Shirley Horn and Nancy Wilson that was soooooo well done
with style and class. Accompanying Joan was drummer Linard Stroud, bassist Chuck
Webb, keyboardist and musical director Larry Hanks (Joan's husband) and guitarist
Henry Johnson (who performed with both Horn and Wilson). Collaso's gig was preceded by exceptional set by Kenwood Academy
Jazz Ensemble, which featured some of Chicago's finest young jazz talents.
Joan admitted being a little nervous as she began the first set, and why not
when one is celebrating the music of two legends and wanting to do justice to
both. Well, it didn't take long before she had the audience's undivided
attention and unlike many sets at Room 43, one could "hear a pin drop." Looking
gorgeous and elegant as ever, Joan kicked off the set with a beautiful ballad
"A Time For Love." This number allowed Hanks to display his talent with a
sweet and mellow solo.
That was followed by an upbeat number, "I Just Found Out About Love." Henry
Johnson wowed the crowd with a staggering fleet fingered extended solo that
seemed to gain energy as he forged ahead. Johnson's one of Chicago's most
accomplished musicians and he demonstrated his varied skills throughout the
entire evening (including a vocal duet with Joan during the 2nd set).
When Joan hit the first few notes of Nancy's "How Glad I Am," the crowd was
ecstatic. This was certainly one of the highlights of the first set which
received a rousing ovation. Another first set highlight was Shirley Horn's "Peel
Me A Grape." This sassy number certainly was very popular with the women in the
audience. It was so well done that even the men had to give Joan her props
at its conclusion. Webb took his turn with some nice deep bass tones on his
extended solo. Joan dedicated this number to the ladies.
Nancy's "Save Your Love For Me" opened the 2nd set with an introductory bass
solo from Webb followed by Johnson before Joan took over. This song was velvet
smooth as she again demonstrated her sparkling vocal instrument without
committing musical sacrilege. Joan didn't attempt to imitate Shirley and Nancy
during this tribute. She was herself and that's all that it took to satisfy this
sophisticated "old school" audience.
Although Henry Johnson was superb all night long, he hit his peak on a
compelling solo of Horn's "The Great City" with passionate playing, going into
overdrive with fluidity. Later in the set, Johnson joined Joan in a vocal duet
of "The Masquerade Is Over." He plays the guitar so well,that often one forgets
what a fine vocal instrument he also possess. They were having big fun with this
number with Johnson even doing a little scatting. This number elicited wild
cheers from the packed house.
Nancy's classic signature song, "Guess Who I Saw Today" was the number everyone
anxiously awaited. Before she could finish the first verse, the crowd
began clapping and cheering. On this number she DID sound like Nancy, and the
crowd again roared its approval with a standing ovation. This set was concluded
with Horn's "Here's to Life." Joan initially had planned to sing this number on
the 3rd set but decided to climax this set with one of her favorite songs. Guess
what, another standing ovation!!!! Joan delivered this song with conviction and
emotion and was visibly touched, as were many in the audience.
The final set afforded the band an opportunity to jam on a couple on numbers
before Joan returned to the stage. Hanks dedicated Thad Jones' "A Child Is
Born," to his recently born grandchild. Drummer Linard Stroud distinguished
himself with some smooth power precision drummer on this piece.This spectacular
evening concluded with Joan and Hanks rendering a number they composed entitled
"Happy." How appropriate to end the evening on a "Happy" note by a gifted
vocalist with a beautiful instrument; clear, firm and enviably focused.
Orbert Davis' Quintet will surely pack Room 43 this coming Sunday, February
28th. For those planning to attend, arrive early. With Ari Brown on sax, Ryan
Cohan on keyboard, Stew Miller on bass and Ernie Adams on drums, this set will
sell out. For details about other Hyde Park Jazz Society sets, refer to their
website at www.hydeparkjazzsociety.org.