Norman Connors, Jean Carne and Michael Henderson – Live @ 2004 African Festival in Chicago

Norman Connors, Jean Carne and Michael HendersonNorman Connors, Jean Carne and Michael Henderson Live at the 2004
African Festival of the Arts in Chicago

(September 2004)
by D. Kevin McNeir

Many of today’s jazz fans lament over the current state of the genre, saying that it just “ain’t what it used to be.” But what exactly does that mean? Certainly there are still fine vocalists who can bend notes, scat and ad lib in the tradition of Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. And yes, there are instrumental perfectionists who have approached, but still have yet to surpass, the greatness of Thelonious, the “Birdman” and Duke Ellington.

So why do some fans still long for those days of jazz before studio-enhanced, synthesized, vocals and instrumentals became the way of the world?

To answer that question, and to show what “real jazz” performance is all about, the African Festival of the Arts, held this past Labor Day Weekend in Chicago’s Washington Park, offered three of the greatest jazz artists from the 70s and 80s—director and arranger Norman Connors, and vocalists Jean Carne and Michael Henderson.

The three took to the stage in a tribute to some of the most enduring jazz love songs of all time with instrumental backup by some of the best, including saxophone great Michael Brown, guitarist Wally Ali and keyboard specialist Eric Tillman.

Connors and his Starship Orchestra started things off with his always soul-stirring “The Creator” followed by the blues classic, “Down Home Blues.” Everyone seemed to know the words to this piece, but this author. Maybe I need to live a little longer.

Next, Carne was invited to the stage and showed that despite close to 30 years in the business, she still has the goods. Performing her own version of Bobby Caldwell’s What You Won’t Do For Love” and the three-Kleenex, tear-jerker, “Love Don’t Love Nobody,” made popular by Phillipe Wynne, Jean was every bit as good as she was when she was first went solo and was replaced in Connors’ camp by an unknown New York artist, the late, great diva Phyllis Hyman.

In fact, after singing her standard, “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head,” Carne hit notes that only a real singer can reach with the popular Hyman hit, “Betcha By Golly Wow” in a tribute to one of jazz music most beloved and sorely missed vocalists.

Henderson, most known for his upbeat “Wide Receiver,” sang the sultry duet “Valentine Love,” with Carne as Chicago steppers rose to their feet, perhaps recalling a more simple time in their lives.

And to close out the concert, all of the entertainers offered a tribute to the recently deceased funk master, Rick James with their rendition of “You and I.”

If you missed this one, this writer can only say, you’d better mark your calendars for next year. As Soul Train’s Host Don Cornelius says, “It’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey!”

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