Jacqui Naylor may be the most conventional and unconventional jazz singer on the scene today. Her smoky alto and syncopated interpretations are straight out of the Billie Holiday playbook. But her song choices, which include rock covers and genre-mixed tunes, are anything but.
This duality was on full display last Thursday as she wowed Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, California. After opening with a couple of straightforward tunes celebrating life and love, she launched into an eclectic set that included a slow, sultry version of Prince’s “Kiss,” and “Summertime” sung over the musical line for Greg Allman’s “Whipping Post” (a mashup style she likes to call “acoustic smashing”).
Along the way, she bantered wittily with her talented backup musicians—a keyboardist/guitarist, bass player, and drummer—and unveiled a few surprises. The director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, recipient of half the proceeds of the benefit show, gave a heartfelt speech. And there was a cutesy moment when Naylor invited an 11-year old to jam out on keyboard and guitar with her band.
But for all the quirks, Naylor was at her best when she delivered jazz straight from the hip. Her rendition of jazz great Blossom Dearie’s “Blossom Blues” was a no-frills, come-hither romp (sample lyric: I’m an evil woman / But I want to do a man some good). And her lovely, hushed rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer chestnut “Skylark” prompted one man in back to shout “Beautiful!” when she finished. And it was, whether straight-up or with a twist.
Jacqui dropped by our radio studio recently for a Q&A, and kicked down a few tunes including her version of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and a mashup of “My Funny Valentine” sung over AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” You can listen to all of it right here.