Songs and Stories: Linda Kosut Live at Jazz At Pearls

Jazz At Pearls is located in North Beach, a great San Francisco neighborhood which is a mix of curious tourists and colorful locals. In the 1950’s it was ground zero for the (literary) beat movement and some of that bo-ho flavor remains for the younger generations to absorb.
The room is small enough that there are no bad seats, but not so small as you feel depressed for the artists. Their concert schedule offers an eclectic mix of local heroes and well known names in jazz who would rather forgo the larger less personal venues.
Multi-award winning singer Linda Kosut brought her tribute to Oscar Brown Jr. (1926-2005) “Long As Your Living” to Jazz At Pearls June 22 for two sets. I was there among the capacity crowd for the first set.
Linda possesses a stage presence which is naturally relaxed while also being able to convey the emotions of each song’s story. The set was made up of songs from her Oscar Brown show with which she has been touring the country interspersed with standards which shared similar emotional cadence and feel. In between songs Linda would talk with the audience, sharing the background of a piece’s history. This never disrupted the flow of the set and never felt show-biz-e. There was an instant rapport with the audience which lent an intimacy to the entire set.
I have seen this show in various venues and I appreciate that it is no cookie cutter affair. Every show and set is different while never losing its main theme. This time there was an expanded band too, still led by band leader Max Perkoff there was now an added multi-reedist/flautist Fil Lorenz. I enjoyed the extra colorations that another instrument allowed for, as Fil added further depth to the pieces.
The set opened with the standard “Let’s Get Lost” taken at a brisker pace than usual and lightly samba flavored. John Mader on drums made his brushes delicately dance across the snare while still getting a nice full sound, the piece having none of that E.Q tinkering sometimes encountered at the start of a club show. There was a nice tartly flavored sax break with a piano solo continuing the horn’s conversation. Being a leader of his own ensemble, Max knows the perfect mix of band interplay and interaction with the singer. Listening, you never feel one component of a song has gone on too long or is merely a bone thrown to the band.
“Birth Of The Blues” was a perfect counterpoint to the previous song’s cheery romanticism without bringing the audience down. It was melancholy as a thing to rejoice as it gives something whose passing can be celebrated. There was a soulful, sanctified sax solo worthy of every late night blue note.
As Linda pointed out, Oscar sometimes would add lyrics to standards of the jazz cannon, not always with permission. A cover of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” complete with Oscar’s words came next. The piece was fun and sexy, the sister to Oscar’s “Hazel’s Hips”. Max plays both trombone and piano; here he takes a boppish ride on the eighty eight keys. The cymbals sound like rain falling upon the city of the hip while each musician gets a solo statement before passing it off, radiating the fun they are having out to the crowd.
The next song featured both lyrics and music by Oscar, “Column of Birds”. Here the flute acted as the fluttering wings. Linda can use her voice as a musician, varying cadence and volume depending upon the size of the room and the emotion required. Both in lyric and delivery this song was plaintive yet hopeful.
After sharing the interesting history of the lyrics for “Don’t Fence Me In” which Cole Porter bought off Robert Fletcher, came the actual song. The vocals are answered by a stride flavored piano and sassy horn sounding like a friend with whom a playful joke is shared. The vocals are bluesy and hip and would not sound out of place in the halcyon days of cabaret in Paris or Berlin.
The Doc Pomus tune “Save the Last Dance for Me” was performed after an anecdote of the pieces inspiration. This version differs from the more familiar R&B versions in that the poetical intent of the lyrics is more apparent. Without back up singers echoing the songs refrain, there is a darker strain to the song’s protagonist’s emotions.
Leaving the stage, Linda brought one of her protégées Benn Bacot up on stage to sing “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Benn has strong, natural power in his delivery. He wields a rich baritone which recalls Joe William and Johnny Hartman. In his hands the song became less a fragile lament and more a declaration of heartache and tenacity. For the entire set there was great interplay among the band and with this different vocalist sitting in there was no detectable bump in their performance.
After Linda rejoined the band, Benn would be back for a cover of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” which Oscar had put lyrics to. His baritone was perfectly tailored to traverse the emotional landscape of the song. Mirroring his blues was a bar walking sax solo devoid of all cliché that style sometimes has.
Daniel Fabricant on bass was a study in tasteful restraint throughout the set. His sound on bass was full but never overwhelmed and there were no over long over flashy solos which can distract from the tension of a piece. One song was performed “Young Jazz” which had lyrics of Oscar Brown over a Lester Young solo arranged into music by Daniel. It got everybody moving in their seats and was the perfect song to end the set with as it served as a reminder that not only was Oscar a poet and activist, but he entertained as well. His art is continuing to be served and served well by Linda and the band.

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