Joan Collaso & James Perkins
Jazz Oasis
Tribute to Billie Holiday & John Coltrane

Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL
February 16, 2011

Joan Collaso

James Perkins & Chuck Webb

Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2011

Chicago is blessed with a plethora of outstanding female jazz vocalists and tenor saxophonists and two of them were on display recently at the Jazz Showcase during promoter John Moultrie's "Jazz Oasis." Sultry singer Joan Collaso, and veteran multireedist James"Percolator" Perkins were paying homage to the legendary Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. What a monumental task for these two yet they actually make it look rather easy.

Collaso took the stage first, backed by bassist Chuck Webb, drummer "Jammin" Ben Johnson, pianist Larry Hanks and the aforementioned Perkins. Collaso did not attempt to "portray" Holiday ( that IS an impossible act), yet her tribute to Holiday was spectacular. She didn't sound like Billie nor include Billie's signature rose in her hair. None of that was necessary. She simply embraced Billie's spirit and captivated the attention of the packed Showcase audience for nearly 90 minutes.

In during so, Collaso periodically peppered the crowd with information about Holiday's musical career while not dwelling on the trials and tribulations that existed during her troubled short life. Joan stunning as usual was attired in a long black dress with a sparkling blue jacket opened her set with one of Holiday's more popular songs, "Lover Man," followed by "All Of Me".

Her rendition of "Tenderly" included nice solos by Hanks (Joan's musical director and husband) and Perkins. Often during the evening , songs were initiated with solos by the musicians as was traditional with Holiday. Both Perkins and Hanks were up for this task. These two also were impressive on "He Treats Me Mean," with Hanks softly tickling ALL the 88s.

Holiday primarily was noted for her ballads and Collaso included such hits as "Them Their Eyes," "You Don't Know What Love Is," "God Bless The Child," "Ain't Nobody's Business," and "Don't Explain." It was on the latter number that a hush came over the crowd. One could hear a pin drop as Collaso sang this song with such conviction in her usual clear and concise manner. Collaso found it difficult strictly sticking to Holiday's lyrics on " Ain't Nobody's Business" and put her own twist to this Holiday classic. This was absolutely a favorite of the crowd, and all musicians took turns soloing on this piece.

Collaso concluded this exceptional set with one of Holiday's first hits that isn't often heard, "Strange Fruit." It's a dark number that Collaso was somewhat reluctant to sing but it tells the sick, sad story of lynching in the 30s. This was a very powerful selection that seemed to be appreciated by the audience.

Perkins, along with the ensemble, paid homage to the great John Coltrane with some fast and furious blowing with both tenor and alto sax. Perkins was at his best and challenged primarily Hanks and Webb with a series of Coltrane selections that allowed all bandmates to improvise on their solos. They were meticulous in capturing and reproducing the sound of Coltrane.

It takes a set like this to really appreciate how talented pianist Hanks and Perkins are as they usually are only seen as ensemble members backing other artists. These guys, along with Webb and Johnson, can hold their own with any musician in the Chicagoland.

Although Collaso and Perkins were the featured artists of the evening, Jazz violinist Samuel "Savoir Faire" Williams warmed up the crowd at the top of the program with a series of numbers including "Lover Man," Green Dolphin Street" and "Dear Old Stockholm." He's another fine musician and did an excellent job setting up the stage for "Lady Day" and "Trane."

Congratulations John Moultrie for another exceptional evening "Jazz Oasis" experience.

Joan Collaso

James Perkins

"Savoir Faire"

Chuck Webb

Larry Hanks

Ben Johnson

Perkins and John Moultrie

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