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Singer Freelon looks at Lena Horne's life as written in music

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Nnenna Freelon Credit: Ed Keane Associates
Benny Green Credit: AMS Artists

Nnenna Freelon is going to doing a musical tribute Saturday to Lena Horne, but says the other aspects of the singer's life probably are more important.

“It is a look at a person who stood for something,” Freelon says about the concert at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side. “But it was a life crafted in song.”

Freelon says her appreciation for Lena Horne (1917-2010) developed as she watched her on TV variety shows in the 1960s and saw a performer who seemed to draw the respect of people around her. She saw not only a singer, but a gorgeous, well-dressed woman who seemed to telling “a little brown girl about how she could dream a dream and make it come true.”

As Freelon added a few years, she began to see Horne getting involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and adding a social consciousness to an entertainment career built around Hollywood and nightclubs.

Horne spent about five years living in Pittsburgh, where she got acquainted with Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine. Her music didn't take on their great jazz flair, but it “came out of the jazz age,” Freelon says, giving her a role in the era.

Adding a jazz look to songs that are not purely from that category is nothing new for Freelon. Her last visit to the Craftsmen's Guild featured her examination of the material of Stevie Wonder, featured in her album, “Tales of Wonder.”

She will perform with a trio of pianist Brian McCune, bassist Wayne Batchelor and drummer Adonis Rose.

The concerts also will feature the trio of Benny Green, who credits the group with helping him return to a band-leadership role. He admits he was coping with a feeling of rootlessness in the late '90s and early 2000s, when he was doing a great deal of duet work with guitarist Russell Malone, but not interested in leading a band.

When he went to Japan four years ago to do a recording project with a guitarist there, he was joined by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington — not related, by the way. He had played with them before in various settings, including with Peter in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, but this time, something clicked.

“It kind of jumpstarted me as a bandleader,” he says. “We understood each other and it made me want to write more.”

They have been playing as a trio since and their album, “Magic Beans,” will be out in February. It is made up of all original material and Green says “you can feel the restoration” in his work as a leader and overall musician.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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