Arlene Armstrong: Dedicated to the Duke

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Arlene Armstrong

Dedicated to the Duke

Davenport’s, Chicago, IL, November 10, 2018

Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes

Arlene Armstrong

Known in Chicago as the “Jazzbird,” Arlene Armstrong brings the best of both jazz and cabaret to Dedicated to the Duke. Her vocals capture the freedom of jazz, with a rich lower register at times reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan, and supported, feminine top notes. Opening with “The First Time I Heard Ellington,” written by Hal Schaffer and Bob Larimer, sets the tone for Armstrong’s loving homage to the Duke.

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 The musical mix is smart, combining familiar songs like “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and “Satin Doll” (written with Billy Strayhorn) with lesser-known gems like “Azure Indigo” (beautifully arranged by Nick Sula). Armstrong shares interesting anecdotes about Ellington, including his active stance on civil rights in conjunction with The Cotton Club, which was followed by an empowered delivery of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” “Take the “A” Train” (Strayhorn) was delivered with joy and plenty of sass.

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She connected to her audience with cabaret sensibilities and radiant smiles, sharing personal admiration of Ellington through a well-written and well-read letter of gratitude to Ellington. Armstrong and accompanist Bobby Schiff are well matched, with a comfortable give and take between his sophisticated piano cascades and her lush vocals. With the elegance and polish of Dedicated to the Duke, it is clear that Chicago’s Jazzbird is taking wing.

Carla Gordon

Carla Gordon is a singer/songwriter, director, and producer. The Chicago Tribune cited her among “Chicago’s most accomplished cabaret performers….a major player in Chicago cabaret.” Reviewer Pam Peterson called her “Honey-voiced wisecracker!” Ageless Magazine called her performance as Sophie tucker, “A gem!” Gordon writes custom material for singers nationwide. Her flagship show, "Blacklisted," featuring songs made famous by artists blacklisted under McCarthyism, has toured to critical acclaim. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Cabaret Professionals and on the Advisory Board of the Skokie Theater. Her songs air on WFMT’s Midnight Special and are being performed performed by cabaret artists nationwide.