Is there another art form in which longevity offers as many creative dividends as jazz? While the gruesome pantheon of players cut down in their prime dominates the music's mythos, consider the honor roll of remarkably productive autumnal improvisers. Among tenor saxophonists alone, the octogenarian club includes James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Red Holloway, Benny Golson, Von Freeman, Sam Rivers, Frank Foster and Frank Wess.
Jazz singers, however, rarely reach their later years with voice intact, which is what makes Cleo Laine's resilient pipes and enduring creative drive such a miraculous phenomenon. At 81, the British vocalist still possesses one of the most glorious instruments on the scene, and she hasn't lost a step on the bandstand (though she's recently recovered from a broken leg sustained last December).
Laine opens a four-night run at Jazz Alley on Thursday with her longtime West Coast band featuring pianist Larry Dunlap, bassist Seward McCain, drummer Jim Zimmerman and trombonist Ed Neumeister.
As she says, the voice is just a muscle and you have to keep using it and keep it in shape," says Dunlap, Laine's accompanist since the late 1970s. Of course, she's more gifted than most people from the start. She can still hit the high notes, but doesn't want to do it all the time. To see somebody of that age still doing that adds an edge to a performance. Are they going to be able to do it? And when they can, it's really great, better than when she was 40."
This story appears courtesy of Seattle Jazz Scene.
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