A sultry warm breeze flew into Buffalo from Canada last evening. Bringing a still to a summer night. The warm winds of Canada also brought the passionate and sultry jazz vocalist Khea Emmanuel to Pausa Art House for her debut performance in Buffalo. To a small but appreciative audience, Emmanuel delivered a captivating concert filled with her special affection for the art of the jazz standard.
From the opening number of Night and Day, which she began without instrument accompaniment, her jazz stylings were evidently unique. She followed this tune with the classic Misty. Where she talked about the influence of Sarah Vaugh: “when I was 15 I found Sarah Vaughn, I just completely fell in love with her voice and her sound. It got me completely into jazz.”
Her reverence of such artists and the signature song was on display as she put her own voice into the arrangement. Which still held true to the classic Sarah Vaughn vocal stylings.
Emmanuel’s versatility was impressive. Moving seamlessly between bossa nova, standards, and one Michael Jackson tune, I Can’t Help It. Her rendition of So Nice was on the mark as she reflected her love for the Stacy Kent version. This version, arranged by Kent’s husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, emphasizes the vocal beauty of the song. Khea brought this same quality to the song and perfect for a summer evening.
Also on display last night was the superb chemistry of Warren Stirtzinger on guitar and Wayne Moose on upright bass. Each bringing a talent for filling in the spaces of songs with the right touch while still giving the vocalist plenty of room to add improvised inflections to tunes. Their solos were spectacular. The chemistry Emmanuel also had with each grew after each song, whereby, in the end, there was much admiration amongst the three.
Highlights of the evening included her stylings and phrasings on ballads such as My Funny Valentine and At Last. And, she showed she can swing with the Diana Krall version of Route 66 and the classic Fly Me To The Moon.
Two sterling renditions of songs unveiled her passionate and heartfelt respect for the jazz genre, jazz standards, and the jazz artist. The first was paying homage to her father Leroy Emmanuel, the Motown guitar legend, on the Dionne Warwick styled “Walk On By”. Her father was just 17 when he had the opportunity to play guitar with Dionne Warwick at the Apollo Theatre. Khea’s version evoked the simple but beautiful form of the song in a very straight-ahead jazz standard manner.
The other was her version of “The Very Thought Of You”, in which she paid tribute to her love of Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole. The version she performed was based on that of Natalie Cole, who she once received a call to open for a Natalie Cole concert.
There are an elegance and grace to how Emmanuel presents each song, as well as, to her stage presence. Although there was playful interaction with the audience and band members on a few songs, such as the Sarah Vaughn influenced What Lola Wants (she had Stirtzinger and Moose singing the loop of What Lola Wants and What Lola Get), you never lost sight of the reverence she held for each song and the lyrics.
In an age and day where vocals can be viewed by the young as loud and hitting the high notes, it was refreshing to see a young spirit dedicated to elegant softness, yet display warm control and power. Paying the ultimate respect to the jazz standards and those who have blazed the trail before her.
Keep Jazz Alive In WNY!!