June 2008

Ernestine Anderson and Houston Person
at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival
June 26, 2008 Enwave Theatre Toronto
Earnest and Personable Jazz
by Laila Boulos
It was wonderful to see the theatre, including the upper balconies, filling up for this highlight of the 2008 Festival. And, after a brief introduction, Jazz FM 91's Laura Fernandez, sensing the burning expectation in the audience, gave the stage over to the performers.
Diving deep into the first piece, perhaps the most langorous and sultry rendition ever of "When I Fall in Love", Mr. Person was greeted with such enthusiasm and appreciation by his audience — especially after his finale, a meditative saxophone solo — that, visibly shocked and almost falling over from the surge of energy bestowed upon him, announced "You romantic people out there!". He later confessed to being a romantic himself.

Enthusiasm, in the form of rousing applause, once again poured forth as jazz legend Ernestine Anderson arrived on stage. During her performance, Ms. Anderson, who has worked with such greats as: Ray Brown, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Quincy Jones demonstrated that her voice still had the ability to soar over the instruments. Ever the trooper, when some of the words escaped her, Ms. Anderson's creative scatting served her well. This powerful vocal gift, for which she is renowned, shone on pieces such as "Skylark" and "This Can't Be Love". Disappointingly, she did not let her voice be unbound often enough on this evening, instead demonstrating a penchant for whispering lyrics which did not impress her listeners as much nor showcase her capacity as brightly.

Ernestine Anderson
Houston Person's expertise on the tenor saxophone produced river-like flows of glistening, sultry tones throughout the evening. And, the interplay with the other three musicians was astounding as each produced beautiful solos that bloomed like exotic flowers.

Although the players did not have the opportunity to practise together, the sound and performance quality were astounding, but, not surprising considering the backup band was composed of some of Toronto's finest musicians: Terry Clarke, drums; Mark Eisenman, piano and Steve Wallace, bass.

Once Ernestine arrived on stage, the performance took on a more casual ambiance. Her relaxed nature, off-hand comments and obliviousness of conversations transmitting over the microphone had her audience amused for most of the evening. Jim Galloway, the Festival's Artistic Director, kidded the next day that he and Ernestine had shared a bottle of Canadian Club, perhaps explaining her relaxed performance?

A fondness and ease flowed between Ernestine Anderson and Houston Person during their performance as they joked, chatted and playfully flirted with each other, giving the evening a feeling of a warm gathering of old friends rather than a stark paid performance.

As previously mentioned, the Toronto-based back up band was so stellar that at a number of points Ernestine herself turned around to watch, mesmerized by their performance. The approximately 70-minute-set was filled with a number of flawlessly wonderful jazzy and bluesy pieces such as Mr. Person's creative interpretation of "Surrey With a Fringe on Top". But, encores were out of the question as the final standing ovation quickly activated the house lights.

Highlights of the careers of Ernestine Anderson and Houston Person

Ms. Anderson's career began in R&B but she quickly began musically touring through the lands of blues and jazz, rising rapidly and gathering followers from all over the world, such as her Swedish fans who named her Stina. Performing in the very first Monterey Jazz Festival (1958), she was later referred to as the "Best New Vocal Star" in Downbeat Magazine's Critics Poll of 1959. With Concord Records, she received two Grammy nominations for Never Make Your Move Too Soon (1981) and Big City (1983) and another two nominations with Quincy Jones' Qwest, for Now and Then in 1993 and Blues, News & Love News in 1996. Ms. Anderson was among the 75 women featured in the book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, (1999) by Brian Lanker, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. For her contributions to culture in the Northwestern United States, she was honoured with the Golden Umbrella Award in 2002 at the Sumbershoot Seattle Arts Festival. Then, in 2004, she received the IMPACT Award from the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy for her musical accomplishments spanning a 60-year career.

Houston Person attended South Carolina State College and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1999. Mr. Person has recorded over 75 solo albums on labels such as Prestige, Westbound, Mercury, Savoy and Muse, and is currently with HighNote Records. Over the course of his career, Person, a versatile musician and producer, has recorded disco, rhythm & blues, pop, blues and jazz, working with artists such as Charles Brown, Freddy Cole, Joey DeFrancesco, Charles Earland, Lena Horne, Etta Jones, Lou Rawls, Horace Silver and Dakota Staton. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982. Person received the INDIE Award for his recording Why Not? (1990) and Something In Common, recorded with Ron Carter, won the Independent Jazz Record of the Year Award (1990). Between 1998 and 2001, his HighNote recordings My Romance, Soft Lights, In A Sentimental Mood, Blue Velvet and Sentimental Journey all hit the #1 position on the GAVIN Jazz Chart. In 2003, Houston was the Honoree for the Paradise Valley Jazz Festival in Scottsdale, Arizona. Together with Etta Jones, Houston was awarded the "Jazzy" award from KCSM Radio in San Mateo, California.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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