The aviary world has always been appealing to jazz artists. Material from the bop era either written by or celebrating the life of Charlie "Bird" Parker includes "Ornithology," "Yardbird Suite" and "Birdland." Eric Dolphy once said that he was inspired by birdcalls, and "Baltimore Oriole," "Skylark," "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and others have long been staples of the jazz repertoire.
But it remained for singer Susan Krebs to link all these elements together into a fascinating musical presentation she calls "Jazz Aviary: A Celebration of Birds Through Music, Poetry and Birdsong."
On Sunday afternoon at Giannelli Square in Northridge, Krebs, backed by guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist-flutist Rob Lockart, bassist Tim Emmons, percussionist M.B. Gordy, drummer Jerry Kalaf and pianist and musical director Rich Eames, mixed songs, video, poetry and narrative into a musical-dramatic tribute to the timeless appeal of bird song.
She narrated poems and aphorisms by Henry Thoreau, Victor Hugo and others, and sang some of the standards noted above as well as lesser-known but equally compelling numbers. She also described the characteristics of various birds as the cozy auditorium echoed with their recorded sounds.
Although most of her career has been spent as an actor, Krebs has quietly built a career as a highly credible jazz singer. Her versions of "Blackbird," "Baltimore Oriole" and "Skylark," among others, were notable for their imaginative musicality, and the soloing by every player was first-rate.
But it may have been a Chinese proverb read by Krebs that best described the essence of "Jazz Aviary": "A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song."