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Rebecca Kilgore's Musical Tribute to Billie Holiday and Lester Young at Feinstein’s

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Rebecca Kilgore “I am not a Billie Holiday imitator," the jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore remarked on Monday evening at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, where she and the Harry Allen Quartet performed “Lady Day and Prez: A Musical Tribute to Billie Holiday and Lester Young." “But if you ever did want to hear one, David Sedaris on the radio does a great imitation."

So many jazz singers—even very good ones—insert echoes of Holiday's scratchy feline sound and slurred enunciation into their interpretations—that Ms. Kilgore's reminder was well taken. Because of the show's theme, it was reasonable to expect a meticulous attempt to recreate the recordings of one of the greatest teams in jazz history.

Mr. Allen, the tenor saxophonist who stood in for Young, is also no imitator. His sound is more robust, the brushed cotton interwoven with hopsacking, and Young's underlying melancholy softened, so that the happy-sad blend tilted toward the positive.

Ms. Kilgore, who is based in Oregon and makes infrequent New York appearances, is a wonderfully fluent jazz stylist with clear enunciation who exudes a serene mastery of phrasing that has the same long-lined overview as Holiday's, with less emphatic punctuation. With her light, youthful voice, she swings gracefully and seemingly without effort, drawing back from song lyrics just enough to scrutinize them and make you listen attentively to messages that in other interpretations might have flown by. She found the essence of carefree defiance in “Getting Some Fun Out of Life," a young couple's declaration of independence from the workday rules of the world.

When we want to work, we work
When we want to play, we play
In a happy setting, we're getting
Some fun out of life

“That Ole Devil Called Love," the torchiest number in a program that mostly excluded numbers that brought out Holiday's morbid, masochistic streak, remained on the brighter side of the street; the weather was partly cloudy with no rain in sight.

The show's avoidance of slavish imitation made for the best kind of tribute: one that captured the streamlined ease of performances in which Holiday and Young carried on a spontaneous private conversation, the saxophone running rings around her voice, supporting, commenting, joking, sympathizing and ultimately taking the lead in a sexy, lighthearted dance.

The other members of the quartet—Joel Forbes on bass, Rossano Sportiello on piano, and Chuck Riggs on drums—filled out the musical profile of a traditional jazz ensemble, with the Teddy Wilson-style piano sweeping through the arrangements like a feather duster dispensing stardust.

In the show's one instrumental, Young's “Tickle Toe," Mr. Riggs's taut miniature drum solos, which were sandwiched into the arrangement, pressed the accelerator on a joy ride aiming down an open highway into the wild blue yonder.

The show continues through Wednesday at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, at 61st Street; (212) 339-4095.


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