“Jazz players love to accompany a genuine jazz singer and Antoinette is as real as they come: good range, phrasing and taste.”
“Montague has a voice that is immediately appealing, and is adaptable to the variety of tunes that she has chosen for the album. Her sound is smooth with a soulful edge. She never gets tied up with vocal excesses, emphatic when she needs to be, and tender at the appropriate moments.”
—Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz
“Antoinette Montague has a powerful voice, the ability to hold long notes without wavering, and a knack for making every song sound bluesy.”
—Scott Yanow, Los Angeles Jazz Scene
By Frank McGarry, The Duke Ellington Society, January 2010
When Antoinette Montague’s band took the stage to warm up the audience and get the annual December concert underway, they picked a seasonally appropriate tune – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The person next to me remarked with a sound of surprise in his voice and a wink, “I didn’t know Duke wrote this!” As I listened to the melody, nuanced with Monkish rhythms, I thought this song could be retitled “Antoinette Is Coming To Town” for she had arrived with treats for the packed audience in the Living Room at Saint Peter’s Church. The treats came in the form of clusters of festive balloons Ms. Montague had spread around the Living Room and a tray of cookies she had contributed to the refreshments given out at the party. But most important were the musical treats, including the promise of a great program of Ellington and Strayhorn and, as we could hear, a well-prepared band to play them featuring the wonderful Bill Easley. All of this before Ms. Montague set foot in front of the microphone.
As the band finished a second instrumental, “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” Mr. Easley introduced Ms. Montague who danced her way to the stage and sang “Just a Lucky So-and-So.” After referring to Ivie Anderson as “one of Duke’s most esteemed singers,” Ms. Montague pulled out a musical treat from deep in Duke’s catalog, “If You Were in My Place,” from The Cotton Club Parade of 1938. Ms. Montague’s wonderful voice was strong and flexible, and had a commanding presence. She engaged her audience and seemed completely at ease with the material. It was a pleasure to watch and listen.
Bill Easley is a terrific musician and entertainer. His full, sometimes growling, tenor sax tone was on display all evening, especially during “In a Mellotone” from the second set. Mr. Easley’s clarinet produced woody notes that appeared fully formed in “Azure,” and his flute playing was given a platform on a samba-driven version of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” (also from The Cotton Club Parade of 1938). Mr. Easley also introduced the beautifully chromatic “Sophisticated Lady” with Duke’s words: “This is for the most sophisticated lady in the house. We won’t embarrass her—she knows who she is!”
Pianist Tommy James played lively block-chord phrases reminiscent of Red Garland and Errol Garner, which could suddenly turn to single-note lines with the compactness of Count Basie. The group was also well taken care of by the solid contributions of bassist Michael Max Fleming and drummer Payton Crossley. They changed the rhythmic landscape of an Ellington classic by beginning with Miles Davis’s “All Blues.” The familiar opening melodic phrase from “All Blues” was dropped but the rhythmic underpinning of the Davis piece was kept while the harmony and melody of “Mood Indigo” were layered on top. “Drop Me Off in Harlem” saw Mr. Fleming playing a staccato pattern with Mr. Crossley’s Latin beat to conjure a strong three-beat pattern over a four-beat pattern.
Ms. Montague changed things up with a tune called “Imagine My Frustration,” a song with a strong back beat and featuring Mr. Easley’s tenor, which Ms. Montague referred to as Ellington’s answer to rock‘n’roll. The piece originated as the Gerald Wilson composition entitled “Feelin’ Kinda Blues.” Billy Strayhorn wrote lyrics turning “Feelin’ Kinda Blues” into “Imagine My Frustration,” which Eddie Lambert says had a brief spell of popularity in the mid sixties.
“Creole Love Call” sparkled with Mr. Easley’s clarinet obbligato and solo while Ms. Montague’s wordless vocal and seductive stagecraft thoroughly entertained the audience. “Just Squeeze Me” featured a detour through a series of Christmas standards before returning to the melody and there was a short, poignant reading of “I Didn’t Know About You.” Finally, Ms. Montague, referring to the collaboration between Duke and Mahalia Jackson, finished the evening with an inspirational reading of “(Keep Your Hands On The Plow) Hold On.” ❑ Photo by Sheila Bellen
© 2017 Antoinette Montague