Blue Notes: Jeremy Monteiro's jazz divas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 4:41pm

For most jazz musicians, one diva at a time is plenty to cope with. Issues of temperament can arise.

Not so for pianist Jeremy Monteiro, a singer himself, who has developed the fine art of accompanying jazz vocalists to a high level.

This coming Saturday and Sunday at Grappa's Cellar, he and his trio play the two Hong Kong dates of their Asian tour - which also takes in Jakarta, Singapore, Taipei and Bangkok - with no fewer than three divas.

"I love to play with singers who use their voice as another instrument, like a great tenor saxophonist or trumpeter, and who know how to involve the whole band in creating something greater than the sum of their individual parts," he explains.

"I call them 'musicians' singers' and they are as exciting to play with as any great solo instrumentalist. While at different places in their careers, all of the singers I have invited to join me and my trio on this tour are true artists and musicians who can swing their buns off and know how to engage with and energise an audience."

The featured vocalists come from three different countries and continents. Melissa Tham is from Singapore, Eileina D'Ennis from Britain, and Nancy Kelly from the United States.

New York-based Kelly is the best known of the three. Her 1988 debut CD, Live Jazz, hit No11 on the Billboard jazz chart, and she has twice been named best female jazz vocalist in the annual Down Beat readers' poll.

She made her reputation in the early 1980s as the house singer at Jewels Jazz Club in Philadelphia, and has spent the past three decades touring both in the US and internationally. A highly accomplished swing and bop singer, she is known both for the emotional quality of her performances and for her advanced vocal technique.

D'Ennis - formerly known as Eileina Williams - was born in Birmingham, England, but she now lives in New Orleans.

She previously worked in London as a backing vocalist for visiting gospel and jazz artists, Randy Crawford among them; in Italy, where she sang soul and had a couple of pop hits; and southern California, where she picked up two awards from the Long Beach Jazz Search: best jazz performance of the year 2002, and jazz female vocalist of the year 2002.

Her debut CD in full jazz diva mode, Introducing … Eileina Williams, was released in 2005 and earned her comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Betty Carter. Her second will be released later this year.

Tham - who Monteiro calls "the petite jazz singer with a big voice" - is well known to Singapore audiences as a member of jazz quartet Noir. Monteiro considers her to be among the brightest of the city's young jazz talents. As well as being a fine jazz pianist and composer, Monteiro is a born band leader, with a gift for pacing a show and deploying talent to maximum effect.

These performances, for which he is joined by regular associates bassist Christy Smith and drummer Shawn Kelley, should be well worth catching. The weekend shows start at 8pm.

More live jazz can be heard tonight and tomorrow at City Hall, with the final two nights of the City Jazz: Hong Kong Summer Jazz Festival. Appearing tonight are the Basic Notes Big Band, Soul Traders, Bella Elektra and the Ginger Kwan Group. Tomorrow, the week-long festival concludes with the Hong Kong Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Joao Mascarenhas Brazilian Jazz Trio, Allen Youngblood and Jazbalaya featuring Blaine Whittaker on saxophone, and the Eugene Pao Organ Trio.

The jazz highlight of next week will be a performance on June 10 as part of the Jazz World Live Series by Italian pianist Danilo Rea at Youth Square Y-Theatre. Rea is a compelling soloist, known for his jazz treatments of classical themes.

Take Three

Three CDs featuring Monteiro's trio of jazz divas.

  • Introducing … Eileina Williams (2005, In The Pocket Music): D'Ennis, recording under her married name at that time, performs 12 American Songbook standards, including several strongly associated with Ella Fitzgerald. A trio of pianist Shelly Berg, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Kendall Kay accompanies.



  • Born To Swing (2006 Amherst Records): Nancy Kelly and regular associate tenor saxophonist Houston Person turn in a set of classic tunes and more recent standards. Her regular trio provides swinging accompaniment.



  • Noir Vol 2 Quietly (2012, Noir Records): Melissa Tham sings contemplative standards, including Time after Time and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, with Noir, comprising Wen-ming Soh on drums, Joshua Wan on piano and Tony Makarome on bass.



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