No, there wasn't an embargo on jazz around town Wednesday night. It only seemed that way because dozens of musicians throughout the region were all under one roof at Blues Alley, paying tribute to singer Pam Bricker or listening to their colleagues perform the music she loved. For three hours the tunes flowed, some bright and swinging, others tenderly poignant.
News of Bricker's death, at age 50, rocked the Washington jazz community in late February. She committed suicide at her home in Takoma Park. She had suffered from depression.
Pam Bricker could swing with authority, scat with unerring precision and make the most of romantic ballads in several languages.
Jazz has always been a boys' club, but Bricker's musicianship was so well rounded that it instantly deflated all the old punch lines regarding female jazz singers. She could swing with authority, scat with unerring precision and make the most of romantic ballads in several languages. What's more, she made it all look easy, which explains why many of the musicians who gathered at Blues Alley didn't merely convey their love for her, they expressed admiration bordering on awe.
Hosting the tribute (and directing the traffic onstage) was trumpeter, singer and pianist Rick Harris, who performed with Bricker in the vocal swing group Mad Romance as well as in other settings going back to the early '80s. He brightened and shaded several jazz standards with his cornet, including a Bricker-inspired waltz arrangement of "It Might as Well Be Spring."
In a sense Bricker called all the tunes, since in one way or another they reflected her range and tastes. Pop, bop, blues and Brazilian favorites were plentiful, performed by a constantly rotating cast of musicians that included pianists Bill Harris, Wayne Wilentz, Bob Diener and Harold Kaufman, trumpeter Tommy Williams, saxophonist Peter Fraize, guitarist Dave Cosby, bassists Dave Jernigan, Tommy Cecil and James King, and drummer Tony Martucci, among many others. Silencing the packed house was a pair of moving performances by singers Delores King Williams ("I'll Be Seeing You") and Simone Marchand ("La Vie en Rose"). There was plenty of laughter, too, especially when the subject turned to Bricker's studio work, cutting commercial jingles or being assigned the task of creating erotically charged vocal harmonies for a pop session.
Proceeds from the concert went to a college fund for Bricker's 16-year-old son.