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Marlena Shaw at the Kennedy Center

Marlena Shaw

Listen to JazzSet Listen to Part 1

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Listen to JazzSet Web Extra: Hear Marlena Shaw Perform 'Go Away, Little Boy'

There's an expression that's sometimes used to describe a lackluster performance -- that it was "phoned in." This time on JazzSet, we have a singer who has never, ever phoned it in.

On the contrary, she's the kind of musician who turns it all the way up every time. An eternal optimist, she sees humor nearly everywhere. Her laugh is her signature. She describes herself as a people-person and a story teller. And she likes to personalize every song.

Some fans know only her successful disco records. Others remember when she was climbing the pop charts. Her four years traveling with Count Basie helped establish her as a pure jazz singer. Today, some of her old recordings are finding new life among techno-pop remixers. Whether on standards or the funky stuff, the inescapable fact is that Marlena Shaw swings like very few others.

A typical set by Marlena covers a lot of personal history, a lot of stylistic ground. Gospel follows blues or something funky; a standard leads to something obscure that she loves, which leads to a blues in-the-moment and on to an inspirational closer. She always leaves room to stretch out a bit.

Shaw has said, "As you mature, it should show." And that helps to explain why, more and more, Marlena Shaw is an original, to be thoroughly enjoyed.

"The Show Has Begun" by Horace Silver (also on Live @ Montreux, recorded in 1973 and released on Blue Note)
"Out of This World" by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (also on Dangerous, from 1996 on Concord Jazz)
"Here's to Life" by Phyllis Molinari and Artie Butler
"At Long Last Love" by Cole Porter
"Is You Is, or Is You Ain't My Baby?" by Billy Austin and Louis Jordan
"Round Midnight" by Monk/Hanighen/Williams
"Look at You, Look at Me" by Billy Tragesser
Untitled Blues by Marlena Shaw
"Keep on Trusting in His Word," by Marlena Shaw

The Terrace Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Dave Hazeltine on piano, bassist James B. King Jr. and Lenny Robinson on drums on JazzSet.

Marlena Shaw on Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center

Thanks to the Kennedy Center staff and crew including Artistic Adviser for Jazz Dr. Billy Taylor; Program Manager Kevin Struthers; also Jean Thill, Sean Costello, Josh Stoltzfus
House sound by Joe Stanton
Stage manager Peggy Dahlquist
Recording engineer Duke Markos with Chris Weal and Mark Barrie of Big Mo Recording
Our writer is Brian Sanders
The producer of JazzSet is Becca Pulliam, with Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe at WBGO Jazz 88 in Newark, N.J.

Copyright 2007 NPR