Jimmy Rowles the pianist has long been a respected name in music. Jimmy Rowles the composer and lyricist is relatively unfamiliar; thus the tribute offered to him Friday at the Jazz Bakery came as a splendidly revelatory evening.
Suggested by pianist Tom Garvin and produced by singer Ruth Price, the recital offered evidence that if Rowles' reputation as a composer has never caught up with his talent, it could be due to the very diversity of his work and the consequent absence of a specific Rowles style. But by the same token, this is why the evening succeeded as a rare cross-section of instrumentals, ballads, comedy songs and period music.
Garvin, fluegelhornist Stacy Rowles, reedman Gary Foster, bassist Eric Von Essen and drummer Harold Mason made up the core group, with vocals mainly by Mike Campbell and Ruth Price. Though the senior Rowles wrote most of the lyrics, a few songs had words by Johnny Mercer; one, in fact, was sung in two versions, as "Little Ingenue" and "Baby Don't Quit Now," both with Mercer lyrics.
Among the instrumentals, "The Peacocks" stood out, in a masterfully sensitive reading by Foster on alto flute. The most surprising non-vocal was "Old Orleans," for which Stacy Rowles on trumpet and Foster on clarinet captured the traditional flavor. "Looking Back," a well-crafted Rowles melody with lyrics by Cheryl Ernst, revealed Stacy Rowles as a sensitive singer in a style that somehow recalled her father, but with stronger chops.
Finally, Jimmy Rowles himself took over at the piano, ending with the only non-Rowles tune of the evening, Billy Strahorn's "Lotus Blossoming," an exquisite duet with his daughter's trumpet that provided the perfect low-key conclusion to this soignee soiree.