Kim Nalley's sold-out one night stand at Spreckels a real treat
Kim Nalley's sold-out one night stand at Spreckels a real treat
Feb. 25, 2008
By Jud Snyder

What it takes to pack the house is a performer gifted with the magnetism Kim Nalley owns in abundance. Vocalist Nalley took her show on the road to Spreckels Performing Arts Center for a one-night stand with her quartet, Saturday night and the 511-seat theater was sold out. Scoring a standing room-only in a one-night show here is a real rarity.

Credit goes to Nalley, who's no stranger to the Spreckels main stage and has appeared as guest vocalist with big bands. This time she was backed by pianist Tammy Hall and guitar-bass-drums rhythm section. This allowed Nalley to carry the song-filled load for the entire two-plus hour show.

No problem. She had the audience enthusiastically on her side from her opening tune, a jazzy version of "Pennies from Heaven," salted with a smattering of audience participation, and it was just sit back, people, and let's get drenched together with the blues.

The show was called "The Heart of Lady Day - Kim Nalley Sings Billie Holiday." To be sure, her playlist was solidly laden with Billie Holiday's unforgettable hits: "Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "I Wished On a Moon," "Don't Explain," "Them There Eyes," "God Bless the Child" and a haunting, darkened stage rendition of "Strange Fruit," and more. Nalley hung the Holiday material together with narration of Lady Day's brief, tortured, tragedy-struck life of poverty, abusive men, racial discrimination, drugs and gangster-tinged café owners. It was a constant struggle for recognition.

Nalley didn't try to imitate Holiday's voice. It was pure Nalley's songs. She has a strong vibrato Holiday never had and lacked the wistful cracked octave shifts or the unique timing Lady Day used to set her own style.

It didn't matter. Billie Holiday's aura hung over the theater like a warm, home-made quilt and Nalley's warm voice and choice of tempos smoothly sewed on fragrant flowers to the quilt. Holiday fans owning old vinyls (or CD re-issues) with her backed by Teddy Wilson, Lester Young and Roy Eldridge, et al, must have been satisfied.

Pianist Tammy Hall, coming from the same background as Ed Kelly of early Cotati Jazz Festival fame, playing without written material, knew Nalley's moves every step of the way and was especially effective backing "Strange Fruit" while the rhythm section stepped off stage.

Guitarist Josh Workman, drummer Kent Bryson and bassist Michael Zisman chipped in with solid backing and occasional solos. Attired in dark jackets, white shirts and ties, they were not exactly Holiday-type backup musicians. But Nalley's voice isn't Holiday-type either.

The fact remains - Kim Nalley sold out Spreckels in a one-night stand with her sheer talent, stage presence and a healthy flavor of Billie Holiday's ever-living accomplishments.

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Posted on: Saturday March 22, 2008 PST