Listening to Jazz music is often associated with the famous rooms of major cities. This setting evokes an undeniable verve that fuels the audience and creates a synergy with those on stage. As those who believe will tell you: magic can happen anywhere.
Hugged by a wrap-around porch and surrounded by pines, I listened to the rhythm of a busy screen door that little by little delivered an anxious audience to pack the house. On this most gorgeous summer night in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, the rustic and beloved Deer Head Inn set the stage for the likes of a vocal performance I haven’t heard since Nancy Wilson live at The Blue Note.
The divine Nancy Reed is a wonder and a thrill. Her buttercream voice brilliantly juxtaposes some of the more challenging jazz tunes I’ve heard together in any one night. With Jim Ridl on piano and Steve Varner on bass, this trio is solid and swinging.
With material splendidly selected for all three sets, Reed knows how to craft a song. Be it her a cappella show-opener, “Summertime” or the nostalgic “I’ll Remember April,” I felt as if I was hearing these gems for the first time. Each song became a personal epiphany. Reed emotionally delivered yet intelligently interpreted and executed each piece. On “Love Letters,” a song I’ve heard countless times, I became suddenly tearful upon realizing the deep and desperate longing the reader felt for the sender. On “Dindi,” one of my all-time favorite Jobim tunes, Nancy gave a deeper meaning to the lyric, “…like the river that can’t find the sea, that would be me without you…”. Aside from her superb vocal instrument, I suppose what sets Nancy Reed apart from other vocalists is the purity and sheer honesty she finds in each tune.
Particularly impressive was Reed singing Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time”. Here she is an effortless vocal contortionist, moving and bending in divine dissonance. On this, Jim Ridl was a stand-out. He is a gifted pianist, a superb improviser and a perfect match for Reed.
As if this woman doesn’t possess enough talent for one human, Nancy picked up an electric bass and played while singing the Miles Davis staple, “All Blues” as Steve Varner joined in for a double-dose of bass euphoria. Whether holding it down for Nancy or soloing, Varner is an impressive and gifted bassist.
The evening’s tour-de-force was Reed’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s, “Cotton Tail”. Reed’s live performance of this song is something other vocalists would not even dare to accomplish on a studio recording. Once again, Reed displayed her greatness as she excelled at the rhythmic and melodic challenges of this piece and never lost the humor of these delicious Jon Hendricks lyrics.
Nancy Reed’s repertoire is as impressive and vast as her talent. Vocalists of this caliber are few and far between. The three sets flew by and this magical summer night was drawing to a close. Thankfully, the bar was still rocking and the crowd was able to enjoy the remainder of this perfect night on the big, old porch reminding us indeed it is “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”
You can hear live music at the Deer Head Inn each week, Thursday through Sunday. Stay for a drink, dinner or a night or two. The Deer Head Inn is located on 5 Main Street, Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, less than ninety minutes from midtown Manhattan. For more information, log on to firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. — If you missed Nancy’s show at The Deer head, I strongly recommend Nancy’s CD release, LIVE AT THE DEER HEAD INN, NANCY REED & JOHN COATES, JR. Her next live appearance is on July 12 at Maxim’s in Easton, PA.
Photo credit: Karen Ryan and Google Images
5 Main Street
PO Box 643
Delaware Water Gap, PA 18327