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Jazz Reviews : Shy's Blues-Less Tribute to Dinah Washington

February 05, 1988|LEONARD FEATHER

"Jean Shy: A Tribute to Dinah Washington" was the billing of the show Wednesday at Nucleus Nuance. It was a promising premise indeed, and one that could have worked out well had the singer taken the trouble to live up to it.

Shy has little in common physically with the legendary blues singer, who died in 1963. True, like her predecessor, she is neither tall nor slim. Once in a while, too, you may hear traces of the vinegar-spiced timbre that was the essence of Washington.

Otherwise, there was not nearly enough in her show that justified the suggestion of an homage. A few songs recorded by Washington were included, among which "What a Difference a Day Made" and "Teach Me Tonight" came closest to recapturing a modicum of the original personality.

Much of Shy's set, inexplicably, was made up of nondescript contemporary songs, or of standards such as "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," written five years after Washington died. There were at least two numbers inextricably associated with other singers: "Lover Man" (Billie Holiday) and "My Way" (Frank Sinatra), the latter delivered with a somewhat too melodramatic flourish, and accompanied by a trio that seemed not too comfortable with the music: Herman Jackson on piano, Dale Atkins on electric bass, and Ron Bruner, drums.

Shy would be well advised to study her alleged mentor and to bear in mind that Washington, first and foremost, was a dynamic blues singer; the set at Nucleus Nuance did not include a single blues song.

Even if one disregarded the concept and simply judged Shy's performance as a vocal grab-bag, it offered at best a strong sound and occasional moments of individuality.

It was an ironic postscript to the evening for this reviewer to arrive home and be greeted by the real thing, Dinah Washington herself singing "What a Difference a Day Made" on KCET's "Brown Sugar" history of black singers. What a difference 25 years made; after all this time, it remains clear that this legendary lady truly was one of a kind.

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