Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"If Ella's the Queen, what's Carmen?" Miles Davis once asked.
Carmen McRae partly answered the question Monday at Blues Alley in the opening set of her seven-night engagement: She is a singer who needs no title and deserves many accolades.
Making her first Washington nightclub appearance in four years, McRae was greeted by a sell-out audience in two sets of old friends. She responded with a richly varied program, including evergreens such as "Them There Eyes" and new pieces such as Elton John's "Sorry Seems To be the Hardest Word."
Though in recent years McRae has taken up variously singing Eastside supper club style or reinterpreting the material of rock songwriters, she is basically a jazz singer. And phrasing is her strong suit.
That's what came through forcefully in "On Green Dolphin Street," where she changed the melody slightly, just enough to improve it. Accompanying herself on piano, she did something similar with "Ain't Misbehaving," ending it by quipping, "I'm saving it all for your (her loving) - well, most of it anyway!"
McRae also delivered a fetching torch version of "No More," followed by Bill Withers' "Paint Your Pretty Picture With a Song," a simple, melodic line that she decorated with affectionate feeling and rhythmic suspension.
Also on the program was Ron Douglas, a dynamic young comedian who evoked a barrage of laughter with personal reminiscences of his encounters with winter in Chicago, cross-walks in California and horro movies. His lively style is clean-cut and sweeps across ethnic and class lines.