Y'all don't look that old, cracked Billy Eckstine at Blues Alley on Thursday night, after the crowd acknowledged one of the songs he recorded in the '40s with a sudden burst of applause. But if anyone wasn't looking his age -- or sounding it, for that matter -- it was the 76-year-old balladeer himself.
True, Eckstine's baritone lacks the power and resonance it once had, but his phrasing was as elegantly measured as his dapper attire, something that was obvious the moment he opened his show with a tender reading of "The Very Thought of You." Later, the strong emphasis Eckstine places on a lyric was again evident when he reminisced about Billie Holiday and capped a brief medley of her recordings with a poignant "Good Morning Heartache."
Ironically, a few of Eckstine's hits weren't well served by a medley that reduced some of the lyrics to a verse or two, but he did get a chance to stretch out on a pair of ingratiating blues, "Little Mama" and the classic "Jelly Jelly." Providing lightly swinging support was pianist Bobby Tucker, who has been Eckstine's accompanist for more than 40 years, bassist Steve Novosel and drummer Bill Reichenbach.