Ericka Ovette and all that Jazz
Ovette (right) and Pieper delighting the audience in Dhaka.
There's nothing more pleasurable than to listen to a beautiful, melodious voice. When it is the captivating sound of Ericka Ovette, well known American jazz vocalist, making musical conversation with guitarist Paul Pieper, it is sheer magic. This rare event took place at a farewell in honour of Ovette who is also the wife of former US ambassador Harry K Thomas, at the Hotel Sheraton's Winter Garden on August 18. The dinner and performance were organised by Earth Identity Project, an NGO that is working to raise awareness about arsenic contamination and provides treatment to people affected by it. Selecting catchy classical jazz numbers sung by legendary jazz singers, Ovette enthralled the audience with her honeyed voice that displayed an outstanding range and power.
Starting off with Billy Holiday's 'God Bless the Child', Ovette moved on to a sweet, romantic Holiday favourite 'Mr Brown Eyes' and Ella Fitzgerald's 'Honeysuckle Rose', a happy, catchy number. This was followed by a soulful ballad, originally sung by Sarah Vaughn, called 'Poor Butterfly' about love and pain.
After a short break, by which time the audience was sufficiently awed by the depth of her voice, Ovette came back with renewed vigour. This time she was more relaxed and displayed an excellent rapport with Pieper's precise notes on the guitar.
She began the second half of the performance with a poignant Blues number about a young black man caught in the vicious circle of poverty, crime and institutionalised racial discrimination.
In between songs Ovette spoke to the audience. 'I love show tunes; they were a big part of my growing up and useful in my career.' In fact, her interest in music during her early years ranged from Tchaikovsky to the Temptations. Ovette began her professional career with a group of musicians in Zimbabwe. Later she worked with musicians in the Washington DC area including saxophonist Herb Smith and Terrell Jones.
This part of the programme also included two jazz operas, 'summertime' and 'My Baby Just Cares for Me', the latter sung with great wit and liveliness. The next number was again satirical describing the brainwashing of people to hate and fear others: 'You've got to be taught to hate and fear'. Towards the end of her performance, Ovette sang another Blues number by Bill Williams charmingly called 'Grandmother's hands'. The song, according to the singer, celebrates grandmothers who do all those things they do for their grandchildren that mothers don't do until they are grandmothers. A Motown romantic number about falling in love came next with Ovette coyly admitting to the audience 'this stuff makes me feel sixteen again'. This was followed by the all time 'Temptations' favourite 'My Girl' which the vivacious singer dedicated to her own daughter.
Ovette rounded off the performance with a ballad ' No man is an island' and a few words of wisdom-- "When you hear the news or open the newspapers or listen to the radio, you hear terrible, heartbreaking things. You wonder where all this is leading to. It is all up to us to take a stand…to think less of 'us' and 'them' and more of 'us'. This is one planet we either inhabit together or destroy together".
Ovette's singing style is often compared with the "great ladies of Jazz of the 20th century"; she is strongly influenced by Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. Together with Pieper, Ovette is known for presenting refreshing arrangements of pop and R&B classics. The duo has performed in Europe as well as Ecuador and Chile. Pieper features on Ovette's album "Some Enchanted Evening".
If you like jazz you tend to love it after a while. It's hard to explain the gradual seduction of this kind of music that seems not to have any particular structure or destination. Perhaps the best way to describe it in very basic terms is that jazz is the voice of the soul and captures all the emotions that encompass being human. Ovette believes that her voice is a gift from God that she must share with people. Certainly her enchanting renditions in her smooth, silky voice gave people the feeling of being given a rare and special treat.
--AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
(R) thedailystar.net 2005