Review: Regina Carter: ‘Simply Ella’ at The Kennedy Center

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Regina Carter and her violin: a human voice has never sounded so true.

Regina Carter. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

If you get a chance to experience Regina Carter: Simply Ella, the jazz quintet composed of Regina Carter (violin), Marvin Sewell (guitar), Brandon McCune (piano), Chris Lightcap (bass), and Alvester Garnett (drums), then buy your tickets now.

It is an experience not to be missed.

Not only will memories be summoned of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald–the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, or simply Lady Ella–but visions of musical conversations about love and harmony and a world of wonder will stimulate and flood your mind.

2017 celebrates the 100th birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, and Simply Ella is Ms. Carter’s contribution to that joy. Taken from her upcoming album, Ella: Accentuate the Positive, the set highlights not Ella’s most famous numbers but many of her B-side hits.

They performed Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” the song Ella debuted with at the Apollo in 1934.

They played Artie Glenn’s “Crying at the Chapel,” Ella’s 1953 B-side version.

And, of course, they played “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” from Ella’s 1961 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook.

With each song, the quintet started a conversation, with Ms. Carter’s violin leading the way, usually in a whisper, as if to bring the audience closer, into the secret, the secret of Ella’s magical tones.

Then Brandon McCune would begin to converse, on his piano or his Hammond B-3 or his Rhodes. His was a WaW, WaW kind of chatter, the kind that gets you bopping midtown to downtown.

And then there was Marvin Sewell’s guitar. You might not be familiar with the jazz of violin and guitar, but when Sewell’s guitar gets to yapping you’ll remember the exchange.

Bassist Lightcap and Drummer Garnett had their monologues in the light, but as they were conversationalists on the deep notes and on the rat-a-tat-tats throughout the evening, so when their time came it was better than a nightcap.

And I, for one, think a conversation is sorely needed.

For if jazz, in general, and Regina Carter, in particular, can teach America anything in this moment of deep discord, it’s the importance of giving everyone not only his or her time to speak, but also his or her time to listen, to listen to sweet sounds, to listen to the not so sweet–hell, even to listen to anguish and the anger, and the hope and the born again.

It’s a time to listen, and “Simply Ella” gives us all the reasons we need.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an intermission.

Regina Carter: Simply Ella performed on Friday, February 18, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For the full season of jazz at the Kennedy Center go online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.

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