The voice of Janet Lawson has not been heard at Blues Alley since the late '60s when she performed there with clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney, the club's founder, and his trio. This Wednesday and Thursday she'll be there with her own quintet--pianist Bill O'Connell, bassist Ratzo Harris, drummer Jimmy Madison and multi-reed player Roger Rosenberg--but, says Lawson, "I'm another horn. I'm not a singer with four backup musicians." She's a Baltimore native and cites Charlie Parker and Lester Young as her two main influences.
Lawson, who now lives in New York, is not your typical jazz vocalist, nor is her voice confined to the bandstand. She has published articles on her experiences in jazz and is currently putting together a musical play with lyricist Diane Snow, "Jass Is a Lady," expected to see off-Broadway production next year.
"We were motivated three or four years ago when we were involved in a project that was about jazz and our roles were relegated to the girlfriend waiting at home and one girl who all the guys used to hang around. There was nothing tangible about our contribution. So Diane and I decided to explore this ourselves. We had a wealth of experience, and we felt there just had to be other women out there who did, too. We started contacting them and having rap sessions. We tried to put it into a traditional form and it didn't fit, so it'll be a collage that expresses our life style and the whole experience. At one point there's a litany of women's names--our ancestor musicians--and the music will reflect the styles of their times.