The Charlin Jazz Society turned its annual spring concert at Temple Sinai Saturday night into a tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Howard Theatre. In the tradition of the Howard, the center of black entertainment in Washington from World War I through the Vietnam war, the show featured a house band and seven acts, climaxed by Ruth Brown, a Howard Theatre alumnus from the '50s.
Three of the acts -- the Charlin Chorus Line, the Metro City Lockers and the Jim Vance Doo-Wop Quartet -- were good-naturedly amusing but unmistakably amateurish. Much better was the house band, an all-star sextet of Washington's top jazz players. Vibraphonist Clement Wells, who had a solo set, and pianist Ellsworth Gibson specialized in the crowd-pleasing flourishes of an Erroll Garner. More original were fluegelhornist Kenny Reed and tenor saxophonist Buck Hill, who worked out some bold harmonies that kept shifting and expanding. Hill provided the evening's highlight in his solo set as he lit up a couple of blues numbers with his hot, buttery tone.
When Brown sang her best-known hits, "5-10-15 Hours" (1952) and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (1953), her deeper, broader voice replaced the innocent excitement of the originals with the knowing calculation of a more mature woman. Unfortunately, she sang only three of her old hits and replaced the rest of her distinctive repertoire with routine lounge fare.