In the early '50s, Eddie Jefferson pioneered the technique of setting lyrics to classic jazz solos. Last night at Blues Alley, he demonstrated why that technique has remained a minor novelty and never become a major aspect of jazz.
Richie Cole, who is sharing the bill with Jefferson through Sunday, began without the singer. Cole's alto saxophone led an athletic romp through Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," closely followed by Gerald Price's shower of piano notes. Despite a pedestrian rhythm section, Cole and Price re-created the mercurial bebop that first inspired Jefferson.
After three tunes, Jefferson came down the stairs and picked up the microphone, With his dark hat brim pulled over his white hair and lit-up eyes, he sang in a quick, bubbling stream of syllables that kept pace with Cole's re-creation of original solos by Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Lester Young.
Neither Jefferson's lyrics nor his singing added much to the compositions or to Cole's playing. The lyrics told the standard tales of life on the bandstand and tales of love. The words were disappointing cliches next to the music's eloquent personality. And Jefferson's 60-year-old voice lost its tonal clarity whenever it left a comfortable pitch or volume.