June 2006

Andy Bey Duo
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 26, 2006Young Centre for the Performing ArtsToronto
Music In The Song
by David Fujino

It struck me — maybe 4 bars into the first song — that Andy Bey is foremostly a musician who is a fine singer. Or maybe he's a musicianly singer.

Anyway, by about bar 4, I'm saying that Andy Bey surely moved us, us being the faithful 100 or so in the audience.

As he scatted successive choruses of "Paper Moon", Bey's rich and flexible baritone grew louder and louder, then he'd go quiet and proceed to improvise a new set of ideas.

Always changing, always improvising, Andy Bey's often horn-like phrasing kept exploring harmony and rhythms with the inquisitiveness of a bop musician.

While he treats 'the lyric' exceedingly well — you should have heard the sighs and cries in the audience — it's Andy Bey's artfully relaxed delivery that sets the tone for what is a very technically-assured art.

Like those musicianly singers Shirley Horn, Betty Carter, and Sarah Vaughan, Andy Bey truly understands harmony and the piano keyboard.

Andy Bey

So that when he performed songs with acoustic guitarist, Paul Myers, Bey took us on a fresh journey of rhythmical singing and deft harmonic substitutions on venerable tunes like Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and the old standard, "I'll Remember April".

Notably on "I'll Remember April", the singer interpolated a few bars of "Home, Home on the Range", which fitted in nicely with his remembrances; and in "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” Paul Myers' freely chorded rhythm, which he alternated with swift bass lines, caused Bey to erupt in a series of running lines that got the audience clapping.

A meditative guitar reading set the mood for Lionel Hampton's classic ballad, "Midnight Sun", where Bey's lonely cries spanned different registers, then changed tone colours, and occasionally emerged as a funky, textured throat singing. He ended this tune by singing lower and lower, until he reached the 'bass-ment'.

But one criticism emerged a few times from the audience: "Why is this place so small?"

I guess the feeling was that Andy Bey deserved a bigger venue.

Nobody would argue with that, but it's a pleasure of the jazz world — and one of its frequent ironies — that if you weren't there, you just weren't there.

In the meantime, all of us can enjoy his CDs.

Let's hope Andy Bey comes to Toronto again, soon.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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