Written by Ken Vermes
Wednesday, 06 August 2014
This summer, SFJAZZ is running a series called the Summer Sessions, and if the show presented by Jacqui Naylor and her group was any indication, these concerts are worth serious consideration. The rule of jazz is that there are hundreds of artists in the idiom that must be seen live. Usually the reason for this is that they are not only great performers, but their very presence in person is a special sort of experience that usually cannot be captured solely by studio productions. Many jazz musicians have argued for years that the recording art is not the real experience of seeing and participating in a jazz. For that, it is said, an audience is required. And then there are those musicians who are especially inspired by a crowd and when things are right, everyone has a special time, and truly fantastic music is created by a performer who thrives in front of a responsive group of listeners.
Such an artist is Jacqui Naylor. A San Francisco resident, she literally walked to the July 18th gig from her place in the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco, just next door to the new SFJAZZ building. From the first few notes of the standard, “I thought About You,” she and her band, led by pianist Art Khu with Josh Jones on drums and Sam Bevan bass, appeared ready to create a flow of music that featured standards, contemporary songs, and originals with a constant ear for interesting arrangements, unusual combinations of riffs, and a feel of constant creative attack and exploration.
But what really turned on the audience was the level of energy that Jacqui maintained, with songs like “Kiss” by Prince, the Talking Heads’ anthem,“Once in a Lifetime,” “Skylark” and “Lush Life.” And central to this was the powerful playing of pianist Art Khu. For a vocalist like Naylor, who seems to love a very wide platform of songs and writers, the partnership with the pianist is the absolute key to creating the pacing, styles and arrangements of the individual pieces. Art seems to have a power to both lead the band, create great color, harmonies and rhythms, and to add a splash of pyrotechnics that can jump a tune into a much more dramatic delivery. Naylor seems very tuned into what Art is adding, not only following the detail of the notes, but creating added sustain, flourishes and detail through this collaboration. In a brief interview, Art indicated that half of the band’s arrangements for the SFJAZZ performance were rehearsed in one day. Khu especially praised drummer Jones who has the sensitivity and feel for a vocalist-led performance. Khu also fondly recalled playing with Eddie Marshall and bassist Wyatt Ruther. “This band tries to emulate masters like Marshall and Ruther who had great patience and the ability to lay back the rhythm. Jacqui gives everyone the freedom to make a contribution and to explore tunes. For example, when we played, “Angel Eyes,” bassist Bevan took the lead and transformed the arrangement. We had never played it like that before.”
This night was the perfect performance for a summer day, with an uplifting set of songs both old and new. There was so much music, it was like two shows in one. Art and Jacqui have been together for fifteen years. And by the end of the night, everyone was more than pleased that they had witnessed a show directly from one classic style, that of the great swing musicians of old, who lived and breathed with a crowd and who created a sense of continuous excitement. Jacqui Naylor is part of that tradition, and may those thrills live on.
In just over a year, local musicians have begun to take a larger role at the SFJAZZ shows. And if this performance is any sign, there may be a whole new platform for players in the Bay Area to demonstrate their skills. This could really create a completely new standard for performers. And in this case, in a very generous show, Jacqui Naylor and the band were cooking with a very appreciative and excited audience, many of whom had no idea it all came from right down the street.