Two types of jazz singing inspired this piece.
First, the good: Norah Jones at Tempe's Red River Opry (now the Marquee Theatre) in July 2002. At the time of this show, Come Away With Me, Jones' jazz-ish debut, had yet to hit suburbia stereos en masse. However, after blow-me-away interpretations of tunes such as "Don't Know Why" and "Shoot the Moon," it was way obvious that the beautiful daughter of the now-90-year-old Ravi Shankar was about to blow up.
Months later — and deservedly so — she did.
Norah Jones is scheduled to perform on Sunday, April 25, at Dodge Theatre.
Uh, the not so good: Jane Monheit at Chicago's Ravinia Festival in June 2001. I'd heard Monheit's first album, Never Never Land (the cover image features a sultry and seductive Monheit with velvety red lipstick that a vampire might wear), and thought it was okay enough to see her at the yearly summer festival. About Never Never Land, one music critic even went so far to say "[Monheit's] voice is about as close to flawless as a human can get."
Monheit — who ended up being nice on the eyes but not on the ears — underwhelmed the you-know-what out of me with her barren vocal performance. As quickly as studio magic had placed me in a fifth-row seat just feet away from Monheit, her live performance forced me the hell out if it.
Where Jones can nail jazz, alt-country, and soft pop while looking good doing so, these "Pretty Singers That Try to Sing Jazz But Can't" aren't able to match or surpass looks with their performance chops. Too bad, especially considering that vocal innovators like Abbey Lincoln and Patty Waters are true beauties who are much more deserving of going-apeshit-over fandom, like number one on our list, or singing on a Lexus ad campaign (see number four):
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1. Zooey Deschanel: The doe-eyed, (500) Days of Summer heartthrob kills pop-folk (in a good way) in the She & Him duo project with M. Ward. But when she tries to go all jazz, the flat melodies are like a sonic ouchy. Choosing Hollywood over a Broadway jazz career, the latter of which Deschanel once considered, was the right thing to do.
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2. White Hinterland: It pained me a bit to include Casey Dienel's side project because I love her solo singer-songwriter albums. However, White Hinterland, Dienel's vehicle to try stuff out of her comfort zone, usually ends up sounding sophomoric at best. Where the dreamy, pop-heavy "Calliope" is bling-bling to my ears, the tune "Dreaming of the Plum Trees," where she tries the Billie Holiday thing by singing behind the beat, goes like this: Dienel's singing behind the beat, then launches two beats ahead of it, then behind it again and off-key, now in front of the beat again, and now . . . my head hurts.
3. Jane Monheit: Mentioned above. Has since tried performing pop music. Great move.
4. Diana Krall: I guess the Canadian beauty and wife of Elvis Costello can sing the piss out of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and other antiquated jazz standards. But that's the thing. Much like Wynton Marsalis riding the extinct trumpet-playing coattails of Louis Armstrong or Blaise Lantana's I-want-to-kill-myself-if-I-hear-another-walking-bass-line-or-lame-vibraphone DJ selections on KJZZ, Krall isn't bringing anything new to the genre, save for boredom.