TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
The Jazz Singer, Vaughnette Bigford, presented her burgeoning red, black and white fan base assembled at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando, Trinidad on Saturday, November 12 2011 with a suite of standards taken from the American songbook, complemented with international hits and Caribbean classics. Sitting in rapt attention was the notable scribe and Jazz producer Nigel Campbell and musical icon in his own right, pianist Raf Robertson. Neither of them could contain their admiration for the La Brea girl after the Bowl fell silent that night.
In no time at all, their voices streamed into the Woodshed with resounding tenor.
Campbell, with no pointed reservations of his own, was stirred by the lack of familiarity a certain segment of the audience displayed in response to Bigford’s song choices from outside the popular music domain.
“Her song list touched Nat ‘King’ Cole and Bob Marley, and ranged from torch songs and jazz standards made popular by Nancy Wilson (An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine), Abbey Lincoln (Long as You’re Living) to international hits originally sung by Miriam Makeba (Soweto Blues) and Tania Maria (Yatra Ta), and included enough local compositions by Andre Tanker, ‘Nappy’ Meyers and Ras Shorty I to make this reviewer happy. But I err on the side of caution when I sit in an audience of fans, happily, whose body language suggests that we need to listen to a lot more music from any and all genres.
Audiences are hard to please, and the suspension of belief that an entertainer takes when confronting an audience that generally gravitates towards a handful of songs…makes song choice difficult. Very accessible music like Randy Crawford’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away” is a crowd-pleaser, but the more esoteric song choices like “Yatra Ta” by Tania Maria are applauded with respect at musicianship and obligation suggesting at not knowing how to react.“
Herein lies the dilemma Bigford faces. According to Campbell, she has already mastered the Latin American Songbook in addition to the American Songbook. She has exposed herself to higher learning at the Berklee College of Music and practised her hard-earned skills on the east coast circuit of the United States in a calculated effort to learn the industry there. The question she is confronted with, Campbell would assert, is whether to pander to an audience that does not bother to listen to styles of music beyond, say pop radio fare, or feed her own soul and self-interested gift as a vocalist who must chart an identifiably unique course.
Campbell suggests eschewing the American Songbook for what he terms a palette of Caribbean song. That approach, he says, would set her apart from the rest of a field of states side Jazz singers who survive from gig to gig but hardly make any meaningful and lasting impact on the scene.
“Her ventures into the world of Billie, Ella and Nancy, and even into the Latin American songbooks had less impact with her Naparima Bowl audience than her interpretations of the songs of Ray Holman and Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman), masterfully arranged by Ming and Theron Shaw with Vaughnette respectively. While some connoisseurs would wince at the removal of almost every ounce of calypso from the latter two songs, the exposure of the local canon to the rigours of jazz improvisation showcases a new breed of song and songwriter to the world. While I would not want to thrust the “ambassador for local music” title on Vaughnette’s shoulders, this path could offer enough differentiation from the plethora of jazz chanteuses graduating annually from music colleges and conservatories in the United States… Context is the decider. Here or there? Artist or entertainer? Who do you please, yourself or the paying audience? Vaughnette is at a point of material decision.“
But when all was said and done in that moment, dated November 12 2011, The Jazz Singer Vaughnette Bigford was a star on the rise to Campbell and Robertson alike.
“Saturday night, 12th November, was a great night for me. The Vaughnette Bigford and friends concert at Naparima Bowl was the oasis in the desert of stupidity that is Trinidad life… Theron shaw did and excellent job transcribing and arranging the music. But truth be told, I know his work ethic and wouldn’t expect nothing less from him. Ah like dat.
Ron Reid is an excellent choice for what Vaug is doin because he is a talented professional who real easy to work with… I don’t think I need to say much about Frankie McIntosh… Anthony Woodroffe has a beautiful tone and personality to match so yer know that big things are in store for this young man. David Richards and Modupe Onilu held down the back line really great. I didn’t expect anything less from them either. There was also a cameo duet with Ming [Michael Low Chew Tung, piano].”
“The band, with musical director Theron Shaw (guitar) and featuring Caribbean music icons Frankie McIntosh of St. Vincent (keys), and Boston-based Ron Reid (bass) along with Anthony Woodroffe, Jr. (reeds), Modupe Onilu (percussion) and David Richards (drums) reinforces a point Vaughnette made to me back at our SONGBIRDS…live show, that she would not be complete without her perfect band which must include the aforementioned foreign-based musicians.”
Any final thoughts?
“The choice of songs were a mixture of jazz standards such as “The Very Thought of You” delivered by Vaughnette with such easy and depth and the beautiful “Double Rainbow” by the great Antonio Carlos Jobim. The song that did it for me was “Who God Bless” by Garfield Blackman. I suppose the all-acoustic accompaniment by Ron and Frankie and Theron just took it to another place. I am very glad that a lot of beautiful folks came out to this event and had a great time… So kudos to Vaughnette, Shurlan, Theron, Ron, Frankie and all the folks who helped to put this together. You have made us all feel better thanks.”
“That night, Vaughnette was completed. Sublime duets with Frankie and also Theron, a frenetic scat workout on Tania Maria’s gem, a calypso duet with the great Lord Superior. The spirits of Ella, Billie, Betty Carter and most significantly for me, Nina Simone were sated. Their work is done. The template was set, and here in Trinidad and Tobago, a new star has arisen to continue the journey.”
Sources: Nigel Campbell Facebook Notes, Raf Robertson Facebook Comments
Vaughnette Bigford in Concert (photo credit: Maria Nunes Photography)