Intimate shades of Bey
by Piotr Michalowski
From the January, 2006 issue
It is hard to write about jazz singers in the present commercial climate in which youth, looks, and attitude are more important than musical qualities. But if there's one singer whose art is indelibly rooted in the spirit of jazz, it is Andy Bey.
Many readers will recall Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters, the remarkable 1960s vocal group, whose tight harmonies came out of the church, the big bands, rhythm and blues, and, of course, jazz. On their two jazz albums they were joined by some marvelous musicians, including Kenny Burrell and Jerome Richardson, but the piano was in Andy's hands. The group had some success but eventually disbanded, and the brother moved on to work with an idiosyncratic group of jazz players, most of whom were concerned with social and political issues of the day, eschewing the crossover pop-jazz that was the bread and butter of so many singers at the time. He appeared on recordings by Duke Pearson and Howard McGhee, but he made his strongest mark with an appearance on Max Roach's Members, Don't Get Weary, singing the title song. He also began a long association with saxophonist Gary Bartz, whose work included strong commentary on racism and the Vietnam War. Bey came to the attention of more mainstream jazz listeners when he began to perform with the popular pianist Horace Silver, with whom he recorded for over twenty years. At the time Silver was involved in a project of healing and self-help music, and while some may find solace in this, many of us are relieved to know that the singer has since turned his attention once again to jazz compositions and standards.
In 1996 Andy Bey suddenly came back into public view with a remarkable solo recording, Ballads, Blues, and Bey. Accompanied only by his own sparse piano playing, he worked his way through ten standards, demonstrating that time had only improved his talents. Since then he has been recording
regularly; his most recent release, which has been nominated for a Grammy Award, features songs from the Ellington-Strayhorn book, an important part of his repertoire.
Bey always impressed with his deep bass-baritone, which seemed to owe something to the smoothness of Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé, but his sound has become burnished, slightly rough, and in some ways more flexible. It is similar to what happens to a good tenor saxophone player: the tone deepens and becomes more expressive, filled with rich overtones. His interpretations are direct and simple, with no affectations or mannerisms, but after more than four decades of performing, his sound and phrasing are unmistakably his own. At this phase of his career Andy Bey is an intimate singer who often performs alone at the piano or in the company of guitarist Paul Meyers, an accomplished musician who has been working with Bey for almost a decade. They appear together at the Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, January 21.
[Review published January 2006]
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