I saw the Queen last night and she is, as is said, all that, and extra ... PLUS ... (and then some). Toronto Downtown Jazz caringly curated her majesty to about 6000 people to celebrate the opening of their 25th Festival. (Actually, the Festival began a half hour earlier with the immaculate opener, Jordan John, singing "When You Wish Upon A Star").
She sang Cherokee as her opening number, along with a team of pink-faced horn players, a churchy rhythm section and a four piece choir. She sang A Natural Woman and Think perfunctorily, even briefly slipped into the "You need me" middle eight instead of the "Freedom" bridge in the latter...and then, sometime during Curtis Mayfield's Something He Can Feel, she actually began to sing. Daydreaming followed (hey, Aretha likes the same Aretha songs I like!), with intense harmony work by her backup vocal quartet. I Say A Little Prayer was delivered lightly and delightfully, allowing the crowd to echo "Forever" for her.
Time for a little break. She gathered up her foamy white train and stiffly step-walked offstage. Because Aretha broke her toe falling on a pile of Jimmy Choo shoes last week, she now has an even bigger pile. "Jimmy Choo is good", she joked, " they sent them over and said now don't fall on them all." A few perfunctorally funky pink-faced solos were passed around.
She came back after about five minutes and offered some music from her new record, A Woman Falling Out Of Love. B.B. King's Sweet Sixteen gave her the chance to sing the blues and I heard intervals and embellishments that I've never heard any other singer deliver, not even Aretha. When she sat down at the piano, everything clicked into place. "Don't trouble the water", chanted the ladies. And Aretha told us what to ask for when we're down and out, when we're on the street. And the ladies sang "Glory Hallelujah" and I looked around at all the women holding cameras over their heads and Muslim families and gay men hugging and dowagers and teenagers and the noisy Haitians and the old pastel jazz fans, and I thought "Here it comes", and then she improvised some church dialogue, and some testimony, and she shook her head, and closed her eyes and shook her head again so that long Wonder Woman wig shimmered under the spotlight, and she ran up the piano keyboard with some Ray Charles filigrees and then she sang that word she'd been waiting all night long to sing: so high it was hard to even distinguish it from the choir-of-four's overflowing melismatic decorations: and she sang it: "Jeeeeeee - he - su -huss".
After that she was in high gear. She ran the opening piano motif of her classic version of Sam Cooke's You Send Me; the horns took it up, the Haitians started talking excitedly about "Sam Kook", and at this point I noticed a cop was dancing. Aretha announced Freeway of Love, complimented the crowd, and commenced her exit from the stage, which lasted in all about 15 minutes. I walked away in a blue surge of happy people in a proud city on the first Friday of summer. The true effects of the presence authentic royalty were everywhere abundant. Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us. You know the rest.
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