Alice Tatum

Alice Tatum

The Nash, Phoenix, AZ, March 8, 2024

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Alice Tatum

I write about the Nash more often than I get to visit the venue. It is located in downtown Phoenix, and parking can be hard to find and expensive. But for the second time within a month, after enjoying a Thursday Happy Hour with its artistic director Joel Robin and his vocalist/wife Delphine Cortez, I was back for a full evening show. The Nash offers over 300 shows a year and is dedicated to jazz education. (See the recently article about its education program posted on our site at The Nash Announces $2.5 Million Expansion for Jazz in Downtown Phoenix – Cabaret Scenes)

Alice Tatum is a polished, professional singer who has been on the Phoenix music scene for decades. Tonight, she was celebrating her 73rd birthday as well as last year’s release of her most recent CD Origin. One thing you can count on at The Nash is that the small stage will be filled with masterful musicians, and Tatum had the best: Nicole Pesce on keyboards, Jerry Donato on saxophone and flute, Jon Murray on bass, Johnny DeFrancesco on guitar, and Dan Tomlinson on drums. The musicians kicked off the show with the instrumental “The Groove Merchant” (Mel Lewis/Thad Jones) which allowed each of them to solo. Tatum then took the stage wearing casual, baggy, white jeans and a dressy top with confidence and showed that she was ready to party. She won me over when she said she had played 90 minutes of Pickleball that morning but had to stop because she had a show. Her voice was low and sultry on the ballads, but she could belt out rock and pop songs as though she was singing in an arena.

Tatum was the featured vocalist with the Charles Lewis Quintet at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts Jazz Lounge in 2022 (See my review on our stie at The Charles Lewis Quintet Featuring Alice Tatum – Cabaret Scenes). She gave us two of her favorite songs from that show, “People Make the World Go Round” (Linda Creed/Thom Bell) and John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” which she always dedicates to her mother. I did not have a set list for this show, but several songs harkened back to the days of disco and live bands playing in loud nightclubs. But there were also beautiful moments such as when she settled into a song Billie Holiday performed, “You Go to My Head” (J. Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie). She took her time with it and finessed every lyric, meshing her lush sound with Donato’s saxophone. Tatum delivered a beautiful, original arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” She took some liberties with the rhythm, the phrasing, and the melody, but stayed within the chord structure. Pesce on synthesizer and Donato on flute added ethereal effects that penetrated from the stage to the audience. She did not sing all eight songs from her CD, but one highlight was the Lennon/McCartney “She Said, She Said.” She blended her pop and jazz vocal color as Pesce enriched the harmony on the piano. Tatum is not known as a Broadway singer, but she knocked “Home” from The Wiz out of the park, making me long to hear her deliver an entire cabaret of theater songs. Her voice was crystal clear, and she focused on the character and the story.

The Nash can be full of musical surprises. Tatum brought along two singers who are soloists in their own right, Diana Lee and Claudia Maynes, to provide back-up harmony on some of her pop/rock songs. Then two of the Valley’s best known jazz singers, Renee Patrick Grant (who is the vocalist with Pesce’s We Three) and Dennis Rowland (who has credits too long to mention), entered the stage to join the party.  Tatum tried to get Dr. Clark Gibson, Music Education Director of The Nash and an accomplished jazz saxophonist, to sit in inasmuch as he was featured on her CD, but he stayed in the audience. Tatum sat down to be entertained, and Lee asked for a B-flat and took off with Rowland on the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” which was a definite highlight of the evening. Tatum asked Grant to perform a song associated with Nancy Wilson, and after joking that she had been imbibing wine from the bar, she delivered a flawless “I Can’t Stop Loving You”(Don Gibson).

I have written pages on the brilliance of pianist Pesce, but it is worth mentioning that when Tatum and all the other musicians left the stage for a break, she left Pesce to “Play some Queen.” Pesce launched into a medley of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Another One Bites the Dust” and finished it off with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Jazz is improvisational and when you are at The Nash it is hard to tell what has been rehearsed and what is just happening. You can be sure that each night will be unique.

Grant presented a cake with one candle for the 73-years-young Tatum to blow out, followed by a finale with friends and all the performers on stage singing “I’ll Take You There.” (Al Bell, originally performed by the Staple Singers).

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.