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Bruce Fessier: April means music in the Coachella Valley

April 7, 2014

Women’s Jazz

The Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival is quickly becoming one of my favorite events. Attendance last weekend was about the same as its inaugural year due largely to the vagaries of the weather. Smooth jazz fans enjoyed the beautiful greens at Indian Canyon Resorts on Saturday night, but the cold kept away straightahead jazz fans on Friday and the heat diminished attendance for the blues segment Saturday afternoon.

But, boy was it fun being among the mostly black women. I was grooving to authentic blues divas Marguarite Love and Lady GG when a lady tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Skuse me, I gotta get my black drawers.”

Two minutes later, effervescent artistic director Sweet Baby Ja’i joined Love and Lady GG on stage for “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On” — and started throwing black panties into the audience.

The Sunday brunch in a Spa Hotel ballroom provided an amazing climax. Lesbian comic Karen Williams talked about raising three sons. How did she have them? “I fell asleep three times,” she said.

Singer-guitarist Julie Kelly did a soulful tribute to samba legend Astrud Gilberto, singing difficult melodic progressions to plaintive Brazilian songs so effortlessly to the accompaniment of the great Karen Hammack Trio that it was just mesmerizing.

Dawn Bishop did another moving tribute to jazz and R&B singer Angela Bofill, who hasn’t sung since a series of strokes in 2006 at age 49. But the weekend highlight was Barbara Morrison’s salute to Dinah Washington. The mostly female crowd gave an emotional standing ovation for her beautiful ballad, “I’ll Close My Eyes” by the late Rancho Mirage resident Buddy Kaye, and roared their approval for Leonard Feather’s “Blowtop Blues” with its lyrics, “I’ve got bad news baby and you’re the first to know.”

Producers Gail Christian and Lucy Debardelaben are moving their festival to October in 2015 to make it easier to find indoor venues. But they’re happy how their audience accepted their diverse vision of jazz.

I think the festival was as successful this year as it was last year and we’re really optimistic about the future,” said Christian. “We really think the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival is going to be a fixture in Palm Springs.”



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