Ann Hampton Callaway has a beautiful, mature voice, rich as warm honey, flexible, strong and emotive, with a wide vocal range. She is a formidable, grounded performer and easily creates an intimate, comfortable, engaging rapport with her audience, including audience sing-alongs.
Her musical tribute to Ella Fitzgerald “The Ella Century”, presented on March 31, 2018, at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield Connecticut, flowed seamlessly from song to song, featuring some of the iconic songs of Fitzgerald’s repetoire, picked from some of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. Callaway performed with a trio of seasoned jazz musicians; Matt Baker (piano), Dean Johnson (double bass) and Alvester Garnett (drums). She opened with an upbeat swing version of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady be Good”, followed by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s operatic “Summertime”, making full use of her soulful, deep vocal range. She then sang a short section of “A Tisket a Tasket”, a song, she explained, that was written by a shy Ella Fitzgerald at twenty-one, at the beginning of her career, at a time when she hoped to be a dancer. She went to a dance audition at the Apollo Theater, and eyeing the competition, she decided to try singing instead and ended up being the singer with the Chuck Webb Orchestra.
Callaway praised Fitzgerald’s “impish” sense of humor and her incredible scat singing ability.
She relayed the story of how she had come to love Ella Fitzgerald. Her father was a TV and radio journalist in Chicago in the 1960’s, covering serious issues including the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. When he wanted to decompress at the end of a long day of work, he would go to a bar where the music played was Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz artists. Her dad subsequently purchased these records and played them at home. Her dad’s favorite Fitzgerald song to sing was “Embraceable You”, another Gershwin tune and Callaway followed up her story by singing a romantic, dreamy version of that great ballad. Other songs in her set were, “The More I See You”, “Mr. Paganini”, “Just One of Those Things” and a gorgeous rendition of “Body and Soul”.
Callaway spoke of Fitzgerald’s marriage and musical relationship with bassist, Ray Brown and her iconic, simpatic musical partnership with the superlative trumpeter/vocalist, Louis Armstrong.
Callaway closed her set with a very poignant rendition of “Every Time We Say Goodbye”, remembering her mother, an accomplished singer, pianist and vocal coach, who just passed away last year.
She returned for an encore, for one of her famous improvisational songs, creating a complete song with witty lyrics and music on the spot, at the piano, with disparate subject matter shouted out from the audience. Her improvised songs are always funny and smart and somewhat absurd and this song was true to form. It ended up being a song about a guitarist named Amy, who met a consultant named Richard, by flashing him in a Greek diner. They went to the local library to get intimate and the story went on to Amy being heartbroken forever, because of Callaway’s own added song narrative surprise, that Richard turned out to be a married man and the two would never see each other again. I would enjoy hearing Ann Hampton Callaway sing these witty, improvised songs of hers all evening.
Ann Hampton Callaway is not only an accomplished vocalist and pianist but is also a prolific songwriter and has written over 250 songs, including Platinum Award winning hits for Barbra Streisand and the theme for the TV series “The Nanny”. www.annhamptoncallaway.com
Cyrille Aimee is the winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Vocal Competition, the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition and was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. www.cyrillemusic.com