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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Seasoned Vocalist Still Answers Call of the Blues

June 20, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Among other pleasures, jazz vocalist Ernie Andrews offers up a new arrangement of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" on "The Great City," Andrews' latest album for the Muse label.

Strange as it might seem on paper, Andrews' medium swing version of Taylor's pop anthem works beautifully, and carries a specific emotional resonance.

When the supple, seasoned vocalist delivers the familiar refrain, "I've seen fire and I've seen rain, I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end . . .," it's easy to leap to interpretive assumptions.

Andrews, after all, is one of those die-hard veterans who has been at it for decades, long enough to have been an active part of L.A.'s legendary Central Avenue jazz scene of the '50s, and long enough to be enjoying a resurgence.

Backed by pianist Gerald Wiggins' Quartet, Andrews will make his way to Wheeler Hot Springs for a special dinner-concert this Sunday. Andrews is an ideal candidate for Wheeler's periodic jazz program, with its emphasis on blues-tinged jazz artists.

The vocalist's life in music was neatly documented in a film, "Ernie Andrews: Blues for Central Avenue," made in 1987 by Lois Shelton. The film chronicles the fertile jazz club activity along Central Avenue in the postwar years, as well as the particular saga of Andrews' musical life.

His resume includes work as a singer with Harry James and Cannonball Adderley, and various brushes with such jazz titans as Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis and Benny Carter.

Like many devoted jazz artists, though, Andrews fell on lean times, and is only recently experiencing something akin to a comeback. Andrews now qualifies as an elder with chops intact, in the midst of a renewed burst of energy.

"The Great City," his second album for Muse, is a fine representation of what makes Andrews tick, and features his vocals in the company of Frank Wess--the Count Basie band alumnus--on sax and flute. On the album, the material ranges from out-and-out blues tunes such as "The Jug and I Got Up This Morning" and "Come Back Little Girl," to tastefully gritty renditions of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" and the Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut, "If I Loved You."

There it is, in short: Andrews is a jazz singer with a strong blues underpinning. Expect a bop and blues specialist to show up at Wheeler.

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