Any jazz singer who can claim praise from the likes of Clark Terry, Jon Hendricks and Terry Gibbs deserves careful consideration. And Jackie Ryan has those accolades and more. But praise aside, the proof is always in the hearing. And on Thursday at the Vic in Santa Monica, Ryan superbly affirmed that her singing places her in the top level of the jazz vocal art.
It was a presentation that was extraordinary in every sense. Start with the program, which included such lesser-heard songbook classics as "With the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair," "Let There Be Love" and "Never Let Me Go" as well as Oscar Brown Jr.'s witty "Opportunity, Please Knock," the raunchy 1920s item "Do Something," a pair of Brazilian numbers and a gorgeous Italian song, "Estate." That's not only an imaginative selection of material, but it's also a selection that demands musical clarity and interpretive sensitivity -- all of which Ryan articulated with ease.
Add to that her remarkable vocal attributes: a timbre that reached from whiskey-and-honey chest notes to clear-as-air head tones; the capacity to slip and slide with ease across everything from gospel melismas to blues belting; a sense of phrasing that managed the difficult feat of telling a lyrical story without interrupting the narrative flow with intrusive sidebar displays of vocal virtuosity.
And top it off with arrangements, beautifully played by Tamir Hendelman on piano, Christoph Luty on bass and Dean Koba on drums, that framed Ryan's singing in settings ideally suited to her richly expressive style.
So why does she have such relatively low visibility? One reason is that her warm, lush sound may seem out of fashion at a time when jazz record companies appear to be pushing light-toned vocalizing. Another may be a youth movement that tends to bypass fine singers who have moved into or beyond the magic thirtysomething years.
Whatever the reason, Ryan is a singer who deserves to be heard, a singer who revives the finest qualities of the jazz vocal art.