Jackie Ryan's New Take on Jazz Classics

A new, self-released CD by jazz singer Jackie Ryan has succeeded on two levels: She has surrounded herself by first-class musicians, and she performs a collection of classic songs with style and grace.

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DAVID WAS: The emergence of a legitimate jazz singer in the 21st century is tantamount to a bona fide Bigfoot sighting. So someone ought to check Jackie Ryan's shoe size. She is the real deal, hairy forehead or not.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Ah yes, once again it's our resident musician and contributor, David Was, head over heels for singer Jackie Ryan.

WAS: Her new self-released CD, "You and the Night and the Music," should shame the current generation of glamorous mannerists and Billie Holiday impersonators who have seized the scene in recent years. No need to name names, you know who you are, ladies.

(Soundbite of song, "Something Happens to Me")

Ms. JACKIE RYAN (Jazz Singer): (Singing) Something happens to me every time I feel that you are near.

WAS: Without benefit of formal training, the San Francisco Bay Area-raised Jackie Ryan picked up her gift the old-fashioned way, by growing up around singers. Her Irish father left Schubertlieder behind to raise a family and her Mexican-born mother performed in Spanish language operettas as a youth.

Ryan first fell under the spell of soul giants like Otis Redding and Mavis Staples, then moved on to the hard stuff - Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Betty Carter. Her fate was sealed with a swinging kiss. Check out her deft phrasing on "The Best Is Yet To Come."

(Soundbite of song, "The Best Is Yet To Come")

Ms. RYAN: (Singing) Ain't nothing like it here. The best is yet to come and babe, won't it be fine. The best is yet to come, come the day you're mine. All mine.

WAS: Swing is a much-maligned concept and can be fatal to musicality when not treated with taste and restraint. Ryan's ability to weave in and out of the beat, anticipating it sometimes, ignoring it at others, is the hallmark of a great jazz singer. And not only does she feel the pulse of great American songbook material, Jackie Ryan can take a hoary classic like "Besame Mucho" and breathe sensuous life into it, without faking the Spanish, which is a blessing in itself.

(Soundbite of song "Besame Mucho")

Ms. RYAN: (Singing in Spanish)

WAS: Credit Ms. Ryan with fine taste in musical cohorts as well. Over the years she has appeared alongside stalwarts like Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, and vocalese master John Hendricks.

On her new CD, she features one of my favorite tenor sax players of all time, the timeless Red Holloway, whose fibrous and wailing blues-drenched sound gives her reading of "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" added credibility.

(Soundbite of song, "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To")

Ms. RYAN: (Singing) You'd be so nice to come home to. You'd be so nice by the fire.

WAS: Jackie Ryan's taste in bandmates and material set her apart from the usual album of swing standards. Her supple voice can ring like a bell or whisper softly like sweet-flavored hookah smoke. And most importantly, she not only has style, she has her own style, the true calling card of a real jazz singer. An endangered species if ever there was one.

CHADWICK: The album is called "You and the Night and the Music"; the singer, Jackie Ryan; and our reviewer, David Was.

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