The singer Marty Elkins is so good-natured that I know she won’t mind being compared to an imaginary restaurant.
That’s the way I can explain her most easily. Wherever you live, there are hidden treasures: the little place without a sign that does wonderful authentic tamales, or the serene old-fashioned restaurant with wonderful food and loving service . . . places that aren’t “popular” or “trendy” but that you prize dearly.
Although Marty isn’t An Official Jazz Star, she is a treasure: someone who easily, lightly makes her way through a lyric without overacting — letting the meanings shine through. She doesn’t aim to be Ella or Sarah, so her vocal style is heartfelt rather than histrionic. Hearing her sing, you know what the lyrics mean, and you know that she knows.
And her voice is a simple pleasure in itself: she has some of Lady Day’s loving tartness, but she never descends to imitation or emotive caricature. And she swings!
I had the pleasure of seeing (and recording) Marty and her pal, the ever-developing Ehud Asherie, on March 29 at Smalls.
(Just eight bars: let’s say a good word for Smalls! (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.) Quiet, with the underground secret-cellar feeling of an old-time jazz club — a twenty-dollar admission fee lets you stay until the next morning; a well-stocked bar; portraits of Louis and James P. Johnson; a Maine Coon cat. What more could we want?)
Hear how sweetly Marty glides through her lines and how tenderly, wittily Ehud adds his own thoughts. (One of them that made me laugh was a famous Tatum riff from the 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session: listen and you’ll hear it, too.) Listen to Ehud’s introductions: each is a satisfying meal in itself, and his left hand does what a pianist’s left hand should do.
They began with the nicest of commands — JUST SQUEEZE ME (BUT PLEASE DON’T TEASE ME):
And Marty knows a good deal about the subject and can sing with rueful amusement of what happens — COMES LOVE:
Another stop on the romantic Ellingtonian highway — DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:
Then, a deep but swinging WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:
And, finally, a rocking LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:
I hope for many more opportunities to hear Ms. Elkins and Mr. Asherie — what a team! (I wouldn’t mind a duo CD, either . . . .)