Alexander's Lounge, Friday, August 4, 2006
Dick Berk Trio with Janis Mann
Dick Berk - Drums
Tom Grant - Piano
Scott Steed - Bass
Janis Mann - Vocals
Alexander's Lounge, located on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Hotel in Portland, Oregon, is an elegant, yet cozy venue.
The evening was warm, but not too warm and the lights of the West Hills were twinkling in the twilight. The trio and vocalist were already swinging when I arrived and found a table. These nationally-known musicians (all stars in their own right) were replacing Ron Steen's trio while he worked the Mt. Hood Festival, and I was eager to see familiar faces as well as hear this group, which had never performed together before.
Most of you may remember that Dick Berk, hailing from San Francisco, CA, (via New York, New York—pun intended) lived in Portland for a number of years before moving to Las Vegas, NV where he currently resides. Dick's reputation as a consummate drummer precedes him and is well deserved. Having worked with legends such as Billie Holiday, Charlie Mingus, Freddie Hubbard, Nick Brignola and Milt Jackson, he continues to keep his chops in fine tune by performing and recording on a regular basis with Mose Allison, Monte Alexander, Jessica Williams and Dan Faehnle to name just a few.
Tom Grant, of course, is Portland's own world-class musician. This unassuming but elegant performer has a masters in education and has been performing professionally since 1970 when he went to New York with Jim Pepper to record "Witchi-tai-to." The rest, as they say, is history. Having recently returned from concerts in Osaka, Japan, Tom was in fine form.
Scott Steed has been playing professionally since he was 12! Having grown up in San Francisco, he has been a first-call bassist for Horace Silver, Joe Williams, Joe Pass and Joe Henderson. A favorite with vocalists, he has worked with Mark Murphy, Rebecca Kilgore, Nancy King and Diane Schuur (for whom he serves as musical director).
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Janis Mann lived for a number of years in Seattle and currently resides in Los Angeles. An accomplished performer, Janis has a voice that can alternately sound like Ella or Sarah and is comfortable with each. She was named "Jazz Vocalist for the Year" in 2004 by Earshot Jazz and "wows" all who hear her.
This night, she comments on the lovely view from Alexander's, but wishes it was "dark outside." Ultimately, of course, her wish is granted. She launches into Etta Jones' signature tune of "Don't Go to Strangers" with a warm, soulful rendering. She picks up the pace a bit in her next tune, performing some excellent scatting and ending the piece with a quote from "Route 66." These selections are followed by "Like Someone In Love," "One Note Samba" (performed by the trio only, the first tune after the break), "World on a String" (energetic, growly and reminiscent of Ella), "If You Could See Me Now," "Speak Low" (with a Bossa Nova beat), "All the Things You Are," "My One and Only Love," "You Go to My Head." The third and final set started off with Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." With Janis back on stage, "I Thought About You" was started off with laughter and the musicians were obviously having a good time, as were we. The last song of the evening was "All or Nothing at All" and we were all reluctant to end the evening.
For those of you who are die-hard jazz fans, going to listen to jazz in clubs can sometimes be a bit frustrating when there are folks in the audience who are not there to hear the music. Obviously, musicians often put up with this—but grudgingly. On this particular evening, well into the second set, a large group of rather boisterous folks joined friends who were already ensconced at a table enjoying the music. This table (the best in the house for the avid jazz fan, center of room) then proceeded to make enough noise during the performance to catch the attention of Janis who, while winding down "Speak Low" kept repeating the final phrase of the song until the table quieted, whereupon she finished the song. As the song ended, Dick Berk (who has a wry sense of humor) picked up the mike and commented that "The Governor has passed a new law in Oregon. Those folks wanting to party should move to the back of the room so those folks wanting to listen can hear the performers." This comment was met with some surprise by "the group" but they did, good-naturedly, move to the back of the room.
After Janis' rousing rendition of "You Go to My Head" some time later in that set, she created converts of each and every member of the group who ended up listening attentively and applauding appropriately for the rest of the evening.
Alexander's Lounge had a cover of $5.00, although that was waived if you ordered a complete dinner. Parking is also validated with full dinner. There is a bar menu for those with less of an appetite. The food is excellent and the service outstanding. Pauline has been my wait staff the last several times I've been in there and she is the best!