Jacque Tara Washington: Jazz Passions
by Dave Nathan
All About Jazz
Jacque Tara Washington’s talents go beyond being a jazz vocalist. She’s an actress, appearing in such films as Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. She is a playwright, putting together a one-woman show, Billie’s Diary, based on the ups and downs of Billie Holiday (in which Washington of course stars). She has also appeared in the legitimate theater in a variety of shows. A skilled composer, she contributed a couple of originals to this, her second album — and she can sing.
Washington has an extraordinarily strong voice, and while she takes on the mantle of blues shouter on a couple of cuts, she uses her powerful tool with restraint and subtlety. She tells an affecting story on “Guess Who I Saw Today,” the first half of a medley, and then goes smoothly into a heart-rending “Mood Indigo.” Her teasing, playful side is exposed on an up-tempo, swinging “Now or Never,” recalling those wonderful girl soul singers of the 1960s. Some good muted trumpet and flute enrich this track by Corky Klinko and Al Hamme, respectively.
Not stopping here, Washington unpacks her scatting skills on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and other wordless vocalizing paraphernalia on J.C. Johnson’s “Trav’lin All Alone.” With a voice as big as hers and her references to her faith in God in the liner notes, gospel is remembered with the traditional “Amazing Grace,” done a cappella and mixed with the blues on “Living Here on Earth.” Washington steps aside for a chorus of “A Man With a Horn,” allowing Doug Sertl, Al Hamme, and Rich Krisica to stretch out.
Although Billie Holiday is remembered by Washington’s stark assault on the conscience “Strange Fruit” and a pleading “All of Me,” Washington’s vocal antecedents lay more with the likes of Dinah Washington, Phyllis Hyman, and Roberta Flack than Lady Day. But in the end, Washington is her own person, delivering on an eye-opening, ear-catching, toe-tapping set of tough and tender tunes.