Freelon, Green produce rich night of music honoring Lena Horne
Singer Nnenna Freelon gave the music of Lena Horne more of a true jazz feeling than her predecessor ever gave it Saturday evening on the North Side.
Freelon did two shows of a tribute called "Lena": A Lovesome Thing" at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. She took some of the music connected with the Hollywood and night club star and turned into jazz at which Horne (1917-2010) only hinted.
She turned "I Feel Pretty" into a bit of funk, for instance, and made "Lift Yourself Up" into an inspirational ballad.
In doing so, she put pianist Benny Green and his trio in the unenviable position of having to be part of the same bill. Freelon's work and voice are so good they would dominate any evening. Green opened the first concert with a set dominated by his own music, and displayed a precise but greatly swinging sense of play.
His "Golden Flamingo" was a wonderful, thoughtful ballad that contrasted to the drive of "Certainly." His work would have made for a nicely satisfying musical night out.
But there was Nnenna Freelon to deal with.
She is one of most under-appreciated singers in jazz. She has a powerful voice that is so clear the strength is kept in control. She has a fine sense of melody and also a good stage manner. As she talked about Horne, it became obvious she was impressed with the singer for more than her musical work. She talked about Horne's activism and her ultimate blacklisting, making it clear that Horne was more to Freelon than a professional role model.
But the music obviously was the most important part of her presentation. She took too-well-known songs such as "Blue Skies" and "Smile" and gave them great life with a modern energy and a vocal strength that was unrelenting.
She also did great versions of two Billy Strayhorn songs, "Something to Live For" and "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing." The latter, she explained, has the apocryphal history of having been written for Horne. She lived for five years in Pittsburgh and came to know the composer at that time. Whether that story is true is not the biggest issue: her version of the song captured its beauty and its fine lyrics.
It was a rich night of music. Freelon and Green both were great bill-sharers and their bands also did fine jobs. Freelon had a trio led by pianist Brandon McCune, and Green's band featured bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, who is unrelated.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Spaeth on baby watch
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Cubs Aug. 5, 2015
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- Elsie Hillman, philanthropist and one-time GOP powerhouse, dies at 89
- New traffic lights to be installed near McKeesport’s Jerome Bridge
- Catching on: Jeannette grad Pryor making progress with transition to receiver
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Armstrong County D.A.’s office to head jail escape probe
- Groups appeal Shell air permit for Beaver County project
- Murrysville oncologist says he had necessary permits to hunt, kill lion
- Russia stakes claim to energy-rich Arctic