Ernie Andrews comes from a generation of singers that had no difficulty reconciling the sometimes conflicting demands of creativity and communication. Like earlier great blues singers such as Joe Williams and Jimmy Rushing, he blends a hard-swinging, outgoing vocal style with a quick-witted sense of humor. And, like ballad artists such as Billy Eckstine and Herb Jeffries, he does so with a rich timbre, a gift for drama and a singular capacity to stimulate an audience.
All those qualities--and more--were on display Saturday night in Andrews' opening set at the Jazz Spot in Los Feliz. Working with a supporting ensemble that included pianist Art Hillery, tenor saxophonist and flutist John Bolivar, drummer Johnny Kirkwood and bassist Richard Simon, he was a musical whirlwind, bringing life, love, humor and musicality to everything he sang.
The best numbers, predictably, were blues or blues-related. The humorous tale told in "If I Were You Baby, I'd Love Me" was a virtual musical comedy routine; Miles Davis' "All Blues" became a vehicle in which Andrews conducted a far-reaching view of other blues pieces, among them the classic "C.C. Rider". But his ballads, as well, even in standards such as "Speak Low" and "It Must Have Been Something I Dreamed Last Night," were usually invested with the phrasing and the flavor of the blues.
One could only wonder, given Andrews' skills, why he has had such a relatively low-visibility career. Fortunately, at 72, he is still in full command of all his abilities, and--especially during an era in which gifted male jazz vocalists are hard to find--his time may finally have come.
For those unlucky listeners seated near the Jazz Spot's rear wall, however, Andrews' scintillating program was diluted, far too often, by the completely unrelated crowd noise from the bar of the Los Feliz Restaurant, filtering through the glass divider, sometimes to the point of distraction. Better soundproofing seems to be needed.