At Blues Alley on Saturday night, Nazarian was clearly thrilled to honor Fitzgerald — and help celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month — with the formidable support of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and guest saxophonist Phil Woods.
Nazarian’s assignment, of course, was about as unenviable as they come, given Fitzgerald’s nonpareil gift for swinging, scatting and exuding effervescent charm. But Nazarian held up her end of the bargain, displaying a voice powerful enough to pierce through blaring trumpets and agile enough to recall the seamless quality that made Fitzgerald’s recordings with the late guitarist Joe Pass so compelling and intimate.
Even before he stepped onstage, Woods, 79, was easy to spot in the packed house. Who else had earned the right to wear a ball cap embroidered with the title “NEA Jazz Master”? The reedman briefly accompanied Nazarian and the orchestra, adding lift to the custom-tailored finale, “Oh, Lady Be Good.” But his fluid, bop-bred alto was heard to best advantage during the big band performances of two original compositions that included a sleek, soulful and stirring rendition of “Goodbye Mr. Evans.”