The notion that a vocalist, particularly a female vocalist, can enhance an evening of jazz has never been so popular. Last year alone, what must have amounted to a record number of jazz singers performed in Washington to mixed reviews.
Few vocalists, though, bring to the music the kind of personal warmth and exuberance Ethel Ennis displayed at Charlie's last night. Still fewer share her ability to infect an audience with that same joyful spirit. Despite a modest turnout and her frequent mention of a "dry mouth", Ennis was in her usual form -- sexy, mischievous, tender and full of surprises.
She took "A Grand Night for Singing" out of waltz time, adding a lively scat phrase to it. Her voice was as soft as the chimes that whispered behind her when she indulged a bossa nova; then it ranged from urbane to funky as she wedded Duke Ellington and Natalie Cole's versions of "Sophisticated Lady."
Later, Ennis pulled out all the stops, delivering all 11 suggestive verses of "Empty Bed Blues" before concluding her first set with an inspirational composition of her own. It was a lyrical celebration of life sung by someone who obviously wanted to share the experience.
Ethel Ennis and friends, including the fine accompanist Charles Covington, appear at Charlie's through Sunday.