KELLEY JOHNSON QUARTET
Jazz Café @ Tanglewood
September 4, 2010
by J Hunter
I’ll be the first to admit it: I don’t know everyone and everything in this genre; then again, nobody does (except maybe Nat Henthoff, and he doesn’t have an email addy I can use to ask him). So when I saw Tanglewood Jazz Festival’s Jazz Café was featuring the Kelley Johnson Quartet before Kurt Elling’s appearance at Ozawa Hall, no bells rang. Leaving home early to check out Johnson’s show was one of those “Why not?” decisions, and the results are proof that life gives you good stuff if you leave the door open to happenstance.
We barely missed the rain that had been playing hit-and-run with the Berkshires all afternoon, but the sodden look some festival-goers wore said they hadn’t been so lucky – and the bad luck continued for anyone who decided to watch Johnson’s show from outside the Café’s massive white tent. Johnson and her husband/pianist John Hansen hadn’t been having a good day, either: They’d flown in from their Seattle home base that morning, only to find the airline had lost their luggage. (“I was really concerned we might end up in Charlotte today,” Johnson confided later.) So the air was filled with dampness and disappointment… but as far as Johnson was concerned, it was all good in Tanglewood.
“This is really special,” she enthused before launching into her opener “Lucky to be Me.” The piece swung like Tarzan through the jungle as Hansen’s ebullient piano buoyed the song even as it buoyed Johnson. “There’s no other girl I gotta be,” she sang happily. “I gotta laugh out loud!” It was so good, even people sitting through the last drizzle of the day laughed, too. It didn’t even hurt when she followed “Lucky” by sitting on a stool and delivering a textbook torch-song take on “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
I’d known I was going to get great vocals before I got to Tanglewood – Kurt Elling gives you no less. But the Kelley Johnson Quartet added an unexpected first course that turned a potentially great musical meal into a serious feast. Mmm mmm good!