Sisters in Front

One of the most supportive jazz lovers in Philly, Fellow Travelers, is a vocalist by the name of Rhenda Fearrington. Rhenda is usually front-and-center at shows and she encourages other women to join her. It is in Rhenda’s honor that I title today’s post, Sisters in Front, borrowing her nomenclature as I share with you four of the women leaders that I’ve encountered in my journey thus far: cellist Akua Dixon, and vocalists Carmen Lundy,  Denise Montana, and Karen Rodriguez. There have been others within the context of festivals, but that’s another post or two away. Meanwhile…

Akua Dixon beautifully melds her classical and jazz training with a bluesy sensibility. She is one of those amazingly versatile artists who perform with just about everyone and in many different contexts. I first learned about her, maybe 20 years ago when she brought her Quartette Indigo to DC. Wish I could remember who was in the ensemble at that time, because it looks like the personnel have changed a few times over the years. For her May 25 gig at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, NJ, her quartet included Ron Jackson on guitar; Christian Fabian played bass; and Darrell Green played drums. They performed an eclectic set that included “Sweetest Taboo,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Throw It Away,” and a few of Ms. Dixon’s original compositions.

Sometimes it pays to be spontaneous (and to live within a quick bus ride of New York City). You cannot believe my excitement, Fellow Travelers, when I learned that Carmen Lundy would be performing at the famed Blue Note on July 7th. I dropped everything and headed up I-95 on the Megabus. The journey was memorable, but not in a good way, so I will spare you; suffice it to say that I arrived and was seated just in the nick of time. But, wow, was I rewarded for my spontaneity. The multi-talented Carmen Lundy is a gifted storyteller with a timeless vocal style and elegant, expressive delivery. She and her stellar band mates performed mostly original tunes from her new album, “Changes,” including one penned in 2010, “Love Thy Neighbor,” that was a fitting tribute to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old whose shooting in February sparked protests across the country. Ms. Lundy’s polished and spirited ensemble included her brother and lifelong collaborator Curtis Lundy on bass; Anthony Wonsey on piano; and Jamison Ross on drums. Ms. Lundy has been making music for more than 30 years and “Changes” is her 12th CD release. And, get this Fellow Travelers: in celebration of being under consideration for a Grammy, she is generously offering free downloads of the album here.

Both Denise Montana and Karen Rodriguez are well known to Philly-area jazz lovers. I first saw them perform in December at a benefit for the musician support organization Jazz Bridge that showcased many of the gifted women artists based in the region. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I headed up to the Lafayette Bar in Easton, PA, though. Let me just say that as a 4’11” woman, I was glad I was traveling with a 6’2” former basketball player that night.  The Lafayette definitely had a hardscrabble, neighborhood bar vibe and the denizens all took notice when we entered. In all honesty, we did have just a moment of trepidation, but life is good and no one paid us any mind as we settled in. Then, a funny thing happened as the music got underway: the mix completely changed. The hipsters and jazz lovers soon filled the room and we were treated to Denise’s heartfelt, soulful song stylings backed up by the Go Trio – veteran bassist Gene Perla, Sean Gough on piano, and drummer Tom Whaley. This was Denise’s first time playing with the trio, but they swung classic jazz tunes from “On Green Dolphin Street” to “Old Devil Moon” to “Quite Nights” and beyond as if they’d been playing together for years.

We saw Karen Rodriguez Latin Jazz Ensemble at The Mill in Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey on August 6. Completely different vibe than the Lafayette Bar, y’all. Situated beside a lake, the Mill is one of those multi-space venues that play host to weddings and other special occasions, although the Ensemble performed in the bar area.  Their playlist included classics such as “Dindi,” “All the Things You Are,” and “Footprints,” along with a Cuban folk tune or two and an original penned by pianist Suzzette Ortiz. Drummer David Silliman and bassist Tony Cimorosi rounded out the quartet.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lots more to share, but that’s it for now, Fellow Travelers. Go out and see some live jazz…then let me know all about it. Peace & luv, always…