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Concert Review: Ann Hampton Callaway Wows Mumbai

The American jazz vocalist doubled up at times as a standup comic between her songs and had the audience eating out of her hand

Sunil Sampat May 02, 2018

Ann Hampton Callaway and her band put on a fine display of jazz in Mumbai last month.

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Every once in a while, sadly not often enough, an international musician will come to Mumbai and totally captivate the audience with a stellar performance with equal dollops of musical artistry and stage presence. We had an example of this recently. On April 19th, the Ann Hampton Callaway bandwagon rolled into town. She was brought to India by organizers Jazz Addicts for a total of four concerts, including two in Bengaluru.

The evening brought with it two very pleasant surprises. One was the discovery of a very fine venue, hitherto quite unknown, the Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir just off Linking Road in Bandra; this new auditorium has emerged in place of the long defunct open air Rang Mandir which was razed a few decades ago. The seating, acoustics and comfort levels are all excellent.  The other surprise was the scope of Callaway’s performance. While she and her very accomplished musicians delivered a fine jazz concert, there was huge value added to the evening by the way she held it all together. From mimicking the styles of Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughan, she doubled up at times as a standup comic between her songs and clearly had the audience eating out of her hand. Her tongue-in-cheek humor had the audience in splits. Her background and association with Broadway, that showbiz cauldron from New York, meant that the evening was entertainment of high class. She started by asserting that she was definitely not a product of anything between two musicians, Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway, whose names she bears!

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The jazz was not sidelined one bit in this entire razzle dazzle! The quartet on stage comprised of fine jazz musicians. Pianist Ted Rosenthal, who is also Callaway’s music director, held the music together with superb arrangements. He is a top notch jazz pianist with a sensitivity that brought out the best from the American song book that was on show. Locally based musicians, bass player Gianluca Liberatore and Aron Nyiro on drums completed the fine quartet. These two gentlemen are in India with the True School of Music and they both added to the luster of the performance.

Callaway is a singer-songwriter who brings great stage presence to her performance. Mumbai has not had an American jazz vocalist of any class since Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chaka Khan who visited the city almost two decades ago. Her singing brought us glimpses of the sounds of the divas of American jazz, Ella, Sarah and others.  Callaway brought out the sense and feeling of the great music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin and a few others with renditions of “Blue Skies,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Tenderley,” “Over the Rainbow,” and she also sang Dizzy Gillespie’s well known, “A Night in Tunisia” and Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone.”

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She sang at least two encores, the second of which was “Summertime” for which she invited singers from the audience to join in. Vivienne Pocha, Suneeta Rao and Skylark joined in for a robust finale. I am sure Callaway was impressed by the local talent!

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