For every word that is written and published, there are hundreds, thousands even that remain in draft form although worthy of publication. The words that follow are some that were drafted with every intention of being made Public, but never were. Sometimes the reasons are clear, sometimes not. Why this review of a May 15, 2009 Jazz concert by Virgin Islands singer Ericka Ovette was kept in the Woodshed vault this long can only be described as unfortunate.
The urge to share the sheer joy I experienced back then courtesy of Ovette and guitarist Paul Pieper now demands that I hit the “Publish” button. And so I have…
The diminutive Ericka Ovette presented on stage in a duo setting accompanied by her “musical companion,” guitarist Paul Pieper and resplendent in a flowing black dress accented with a knee-length shawl drooped over the right shoulder.
Ovette opened with “God Bless The Child” as a channel to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, whom she called “the mother of them all” in referring to the “five very important (African-American) women” of Jazz,” namely Ella herself, Carmen McCrae, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, all of whom are long gone now.
“Them There Eyes” was a swing seance to Holiday. This brought the crowd alive, and quite fittingly so. Ovette attributed that to the family that she packed the hillside with, and quite wrongly of course.
That applause, I am sure, was not directed only at the singer, but at the guitarist whose dexterity could not have gone unnoticed. Certainly, an acoustic guitarist backing up a Jazz singer is no easy matter. He has to provide the rhythm, the beat and jaunt. Pieper was on top of his game in this respect, not only on “Them There Eyes,” but on the very next selection, a song made popular by Sarah Vaughan, “Cherokee.”
Ovette then took a side road from her stated theme of paying tribute to the five ladies of Jazz song by essaying her interpretation of “Jinji” in a bossa nova styling. Although “Jinji” would be associated more firmly with Vaughan, it was fitting to acknowledge that this song was also covered by John Lucien, another crooner from the British Virgin Islands, now on his way up on high.
Back on the main road, Ovette returned to the work of Ella Fitzgerald in the form of “Squeeze Me.” At this point, Ovette is visibly enjoying her act as much as we are perched on chairs, benches or one or the other of those large stones that is typical on the Virgin Gorda landscape.
Sticking with Ella Fitzgerald, Ovette nevertheless angled her song choice to recognize the penchant that Fitzgerald was well-known for having “recorded music by every music songwriter from the great American songbook.” The songwriter she chose to single out next was Irving Berlin. The song, “Cheek to Cheek.”
Then it was Carmen McCrae‘s turn to shine down on us. Ovette did two numbers of Carmen McCrae, “arcane, very obscure tunes” that McCrae was known for popularizing, “One More Look at You” from the movie, “A Star is Born” and “The Best is Yet to Come.”
“Work Song” and “Brown Baby” are both Oscar Brown Jr. songs. The latter is “about the aspirations that parents have for their children“; the former a mother’s cry for an offspring lost, I suppose, an aspiration dashed. Both of these songs were taken from Nina Simone who made her platform one of Black activism as few of her time did with the kind of eloquence that she so successfully pursued. This marked the close of Erika Ovette‘s homage to the “Five Divas of Jazz”
However, there were three songs left to do in the programme. The first was a medley of two songs that culminated with the Four Tops’ “My Girl,” seemingly dedicated to Coralie George, the hard-working producer of Jazz on the Hill.
Ovette turned inwards with “The Need to Be” to please herself with a tune that she said she always does. It is like an anthem to her, she confessed.
She closed her set with “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” a song she has known pretty much for as long as she has sung.
Hers was a set that those of us who were on the Hill will remember very fondly. Me, make that very, very fondly for I hold a special attraction to Jazz duos of every configuration, let alone the full-proof, tried and true voice and acoustic guitar pairing. Ericka Ovette and Paul Pieper represented the sub-genre with such aplomb, it would be a wonder if there isn’t a clamour by all and sundry for a return engagement real soon.
PS: “Brown Baby” and “My Girl” can be found on Ericka Ovette’s latest CD, That’s What Friends Are For (Stolen Moments Records)