I’ve seen the peerless singer Rebecca Kilgore perform live for the past seven years, and have always marveled how easily she made herself — and everyone else — comfortable in ad hoc situations. And her easy confidence radiates to the other musicians; we in the audience feel it, too. No one sits tensely on the edge of a seat when Becky takes the mike to sing: we know that something good, something surprising and persuasive, is coming.
It certainly happened at her closing set of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, which took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011. Someone had the interesting idea of splitting the RK4 (that’s the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, the group formerly known as BED) into two. In one room, Dan Barrett and Joel Forbes improvised alongside pianist Chris Dawson, reedman Jim Galloway, and drummer Frank DiVito. I’m sure that was a delight. Down the hall, Becky found herself surrounded by clarinets — Bob Draga and Chloe Feoranzo, with comrade Eddie Erickson on the stand and the irreplaceable pianist / singer Mark Shane.
What resulted was superb, and you can see for yourself.
Becky began with a song — of no great lyrical depth but immensely memorable — that I’d never heard her sing before, THE FLAT FOOT FLOOGIE (which segued into a later bit of pop drollery, SHOO FLY PIE AND APPLE PAN DOWDY, known only to scholars of dance-band arcana). But she and the band floated on air, with our without a floy floy:
Another new-old song, YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS, was more lyrically dense but equally rewarding:
Becky then became a fine rhythm guitarist, while the clarinetists, Mark, and Eddie capered around in BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN at a nice tempo:
Becky teased us and the audience about Eddie Erickson’s feature, WHAT’LL I DO? as a genuine weeper, but at heart she’s right — what a lovely performance of that beautiful song, with Eddie’s voice full of shadings that change from word to word:
Usually pianists as splendidly gifted as Mark Shane choose to wow the crowd with a stride firecracker for a feature — but our Mr. Shane is a wily programmer, and he called the 2:19 BLUES (or MAMIE’S BLUES) for his star turn, which led to a deep-blue seven minute performance of which Mr. Morton would (“no doubt”) have approved:
In response to an audience member’s request, Becky tenderly sang that Swing Era carpe diem, A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY, in duet with Mark — the result touching without being sentimental:
And the whole group re-assembled so that Becky could lead them out with a hymn to self-love in the form of snail-mail: I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER:
What grace! Thanks to Becky and the ensemble, and special thanks to the Canadian Board of Film for its gracious assistance. This posting was made possible by a grant from the Frida Foundation.
P.S. While I was writing this post, I took a phone call from my friend Destiny Sneath and explained what I was doing. “You won’t believe it,” I said. And — she knows the right thing to say — Destiny replied, “I can’t wait!” This one’s for you, Destiny — and for all of us who admire our Miss Kilgore.