Everest Theatre, July 12
As a little girl Ella Fitzgerald longed to be a dancer. When (while yet in her teens) she instead became a singer, her ascent to greatness was hastened because she still danced, except that now it with her voice. More than any other jazz singer, Ella made a melody lighter than air, so every word seemed to wheel on updrafts towards her glistening top notes. Implicit in that dancing quality were two interrelated facets: girlishness and playfulness.
This playfulness is primarily what Alison Jiear shares with her, although the London-based Australian’s Celebration of Ella Fitzgerald (for Sydney Cabaret Festival) also showed she could perform Ella’s repertoire without bringing the full weight of her impressive voice to bear, so the notes had ample air around them – even something of that magical weightlessness. To this she added exceptional pitch and an appealing effortlessness of execution.
Jiear had the artistic nous to eschew making her tribute an impersonation. Indeed sometimes her phrasing suggested she is not even a natural jazz singer, but rather a sufficiently gifted, accomplished and versatile vocalist to do a fair impression of one. Many more studied jazz singers lack Jiear’s voice and musicality.
The ballads shone out, especially I’ve Got a Crush on You and a diaphanous reading of Embraceable You. When she stepped outside the Ella repertoire, Jiear showed off more of her range and agility, but not of her artistry. An array of spontaneous requests from the audience sung a cappella added up to no more than an entertaining party trick, and her closing I Still Call Australia Home, however well rendered, still made one feel like a fly stuck in a jar of toffees.
Unlike the Festival’s headliner, Jennifer Holliday, Jiear was blessed with a genuinely sympathetic local band in pianist Kevin Hunt, guitarist Mark Johns, bassist Reg Royal and drummer Gordon Rytmeister. She also had a better room than the Town Hall, with the unloved Everest Theatre transformed with chandeliers and elegant staging into “Chequers” for the event.