Ana’s jazz was ‘sheer fun’
This was a wonderful evening of music taken from the jazz of the Harlem Renaissance era and updated by modern master musicians.
Vocalist and narrator Ana Hoffman combined the multi-octave range of Cleo Laine, the sophisticated intimacy of Dinah Washington, the pure improvisatory brilliance of Ella Fitzgerald yet charging the music with a freshness, an excitement all of her own. And it was sheer fun.
Her opening number, Bye Bye Blackbird, showed mastery of pure scat singing with an operatic introduction and concluding with a dazzling duet with the tenor saxophone. Duke Ellington’s 1939 Take the A Train followed and used percussion to give a sound picture of the accelerating train and also to show the urgency of the lyrics. Hoffman went on to use another Ellington masterpiece, It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing) in order to galvanise us all to join in with all the doo-ahs refrains.
The shape of the performances then changed a little. In Lullaby of Birdland Hoffman began to use a lower vocal register and blend in with her fellow musicians rather than soaring above them. In Gershwin’s They Can’t take That Away from Me – to everyone’s delight – she Bermudianised the lyrics to include mixing swizzles and wearing shorts.
The first half of the concert was fun, the second half much more serious. The essence of jazz lies in musical teamwork and co-operation. Everyone has a chance to excel alone in a solo but the solo, in addition to showing technical virtuosity, is a result of listening and intuiting fellow team members’ feelings to contribute to the overall musical message. Jazz should be a democracy. Last night it was. Hoffman’s musicians each had a hand in arranging the musical numbers in the second half of the concert. No wonder, she singled out all her musicians by name for our special appreciation.
Bassist Rafael Enciso arranged Afro Blue, an extended waltz-like instrumental by Mongo Santamaria dating from 1959, which referenced the experience of slavery and its aftermath. It reminded us that if life is jazz, then jazz itself can imitate life and inform us. It confronts evils and helps us transcend them, for jazz is also a redemptive and healing art.
Feelin’ Good came next, arranged by percussionist Christian McGhee. The music radiated sheer joy in the manner of Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. Santosh Sharma’s saxophone solo was particularly joyous, bursting with energy and unleashing all the emotive power of the instrument – from extreme tenderness to strident vibratos.
Pianist Sam Towse’s sensitive arrangement of Billie Holiday’s 1939 God Bless The Child was next, surely the embodiment of Christmas hope. The concert ended with another of Towse’s arrangements, this one of Cy Coleman’s The Best Is Yet To Come. This formed an energetic, optimistic farewell for these wonderfully talented musicians and their powerful message: Life is jazz, and jazz is joy.
Ana Hoffman’s Life Is Jazz ran Friday and Saturday at the Earl Cameron Theatre as the opening act of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.