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'Gentlemen Sing' leans too heavily on jazz standards

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

Sometimes jazz has trouble being America's classical music.

Just as some music ensembles get so tied down to performing the great classics of centuries ago, many jazz performances fall into the rut of relying on time-tested standards.

Such was the flaw of “The Gentlemen Sing” concert Feb. 28 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side. The show was put together by Marty Ashby, executive producer of MCG Jazz, as a way of showing the future of male jazz singing by teaming up promising newbie Milton Suggs from New York City with 86-year-old veteran Ernie Andrews and Allen Harris, 57, in the midst of a busy career.

The concert accomplished the goal of showing off all the voices, but it was so filled with standards it took on the nature of a classical outing. New looks at the songs were limited, and attention to the growth and development of music was non-existent.

All three singers performed well, but all performed the same type of music. Whether it was Harris singing “I Remember You,” Suggs doing “Body and Soul” or Andrews offering “Our Love is Here to Stay,” the concert sounded like it was stuck on the same pages of the Great American Songbook.

Of course, it was better than Andrews trying to make James Taylor's “Fire and Rain” into a bright, swing number.

While ignoring the growth and change of music is frustrating, treating it badly is even more offensive.

There were strong parts of the show. Harris played guitar on “I Can't Live My Life Without You,” giving it some life with his electric licks. Suggs showed tasteful cleverness in his lyrics to the Benny Golson classic, “Along Came Betty.”

But the show seemed to ignore that worthwhile music might have been written after 1960 — with the dreadful exception of Andrews' “Fire and Rain.”

There is a reason why a growing cast of jazz singers are doing songs by The Beatles or Joni Mitchell. They are good songs. It is the same reason why Miles Davis didn't insist on playing “Seven Steps to Heaven” forever and instead found merit in “Human Nature” and “Time After Time.”

Suggs is a promising singer with a great near-bass voice. His versions of “Honeysuckle Rose” and the other two numbers were fresh and lively.

His work would indicate jazz singing is in good hands.

But audiences down the road are going to be looking for songs they know, rather than ones they've read about.

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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