Annie Sellick has been an area favorite for many years. Her consistently strong voice and personable stage presence, coupled with an equally distinctive delivery and sense of swing, place her in the upper echelon of the city’s jazz vocalists.
Thursday night she debuted before songs from her first holiday release, “Let’s Make A Christmas Memory,” before an appreciative audience at Vanderbilt University’s Ingram Hall. The Nashville Jazz Orchestra played with her. The collaboration spotlighted some interesting differences between the tunes on the CD and the manner they were featured in the live performance.
While the backing on the disc ranges from orchestral to small group (there’s even a gospel ensemble), the NJO’s booming assistance and cohesion provided plenty of suitable and compelling alternative options. The evening’s musical lineup included five saxophonists, four trumpeters and trombonists plus a fine rhythm section. They provided a shimmering energy and foundation that nicely enhanced and embellished Sellick’s strong vocals.
The CD’s selections blended familiar favorites (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland”) with originals co-written by Sellick and her husband, guitarist Pat Bergeson. He displayed the lesser publicized sides of his musical personality on “Marshmallow World” (adding some crisp harmonica licks) and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” where he joined Sellick in their rendition of the tune immortalized by Ray Charles and Betty Carter.
Sellick was consistently outstanding, but seemed especially engaging on “Let’s Make a Christmas Memory,” which she confessed to writing back in her student days at MTSU. Her set finale, “Where Was Baby Jesus Born,” was also memorable, as was her opener, “Bring A Torch Isabella,” a 16th-century number initially performed for French nobility.
The NJO added its customary fiery support, with various members like saxophonists Cole Burgess and Evan Cobb, pianist Joe Davidian, bassist Todd Parks, drummer Bob Mater, trumpeters Bernie Walker and Jim Williamson and trombonist Roy Agee getting spotlight solos during Sellick’s impressive set. The Orchestra even got its own showcase, the evening’s last tune, a stirring version of “Silent Night.”
The opening set offered the Blair Big Band under the direction of Billy Adair its annual showcase set. As usual, the student soloists demonstrated a maturity and knowledge of material written decades before they were born that was both technically formidable and quite entertaining.
The Blair Big Band did a variety of tunes, from the usual jazz canon of show tunes and standards to more recent compositions like “A Time For Love,” which featured new instructor trombonist Jeremy Wilson, and their last number, a sterling version of Bob Florence’s “Be Bop Charlie.”
But it was the vocalists who took top honors during their set. The band featured a trio of female singers, each capably distinguishing themselves. Caitlin Quinlan took the “torch” approach during her rendition of “On Green Dolphin Street, then elevated it on “I Love You, Porgy.”
Catey Bouley displayed the strongest voice and most extensive range during the choruses of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and “I Caught A Touch of Your Love.” Laney Keeshin worked in the middle ground between the two styles. She nicely supplied understated touches on “Falling in Love With Love,” then became more energetic and animated throughout “All That Jazz.”
Overall, it was a night to celebrate classic swing and holiday sentiments, with a large house present despite the less than desirable weather. Both the Blair Big Band and Nashville Jazz Orchestra, as well as Annie Sellick and all the other vocalists, deftly kept everyone’s spirits high.