LIVE: Kaitlyn Fay Quartet @ Jazz on Jay, 07/28/2022

Some fans may have squinted at Kaitlyn Fay singing Thursday at Jazz on Jay. “Isn’t that…?” Or, “Doesn’t she…?” 

They’d be correct: Fay plays baritone sax in big bands hereabouts, and she plays regularly in musical theater pit bands.

Kaitlyn Fay

Over the past year, she’s also been building momentum and attention as a singer of old-fashioned elegance, and opened some ears on Thursday. Her confident rhythmic aplomb felt gracefully horn-like throughout her 90 minutes of mostly venerable jazz standards and show-tunes. She sang them as well as she chose them, with admirable clarity, perfect pitch, and either pathos or power as the lyrics demanded. Fans could hear Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day in Fay’s unhurried grace, but her distinctively light melodic touch seemed all her own.

Right away, she challenged, “Hey, Look Me Over,” a mid-tempo swing tune whose lyrics she left in the dust after a single verse to skat; pianist Wayne Hawkins soloing right behind, as Brad Monkell’s bass hooked up tight with Cliff Brucker’s drums. 

The tent shading the musicians didn’t fully cover Brucker, who worked hard enough to raise the worry he might melt – until impresario/host Betsy Sandberg held a beach umbrella over him.

Cliff Brucker

Fay hosted graciously, introducing and explaining songs. She even indulged an unconscionable invasion of her stage by a woman announcing something unrelated. I much prefer Pete Townsend’s response to such interlopers: Hit them with your guitar. But I digress. Another show tune followed her opener, Alec Wilder’s “While We’re Young” – a waltz in bossa flavor with a have-your-fun-now theme she revisited later with “Are You Having Any Fun?” Here she echoed the straightforward style of Tony Bennett, crooner of the best-known version.

After ably singing Jobim’s “Desifinado,” she acknowledged the near-sanctity of some songs, that to do more with them was a sort of sacrilege. But she didn’t hesitate to do more, indeed, with some tunes, notably her brisk and breezy run through “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” that followed the Jobim. Here, the band loosened up, Hawkins and Monkell swapping licks, then Hawkins doing the same with Brucker’s drums. Next, Fay playfully skat-sang in “Are You Having Any Fun?” She surely was.

Hawkins mostly played his keyboard either in straight acoustic-piano emulation or Rhodes-style, but he used aggressive wah-wah phrasing in “Summertime,” Fay singing behind the beat to accentuate a funky approach. 

Wayne Hawkins

Fay cited the weather to introduce “On A Clear Day.” Relieved that forecasted storms stayed away, she jumped happily into the song. This tune and “They Say It’s Wonderful” shared a happy mood that seemed to inspire Hawkins in an agile solo in the former and to spark a fine foray by bassist Brad Monkell in the latter. 

“If I Were a Bell” featured another Monkell gem. Fay sang it straight and Hawkins owned the coda. In “No More Blues,” Fay alternated skat and straight singing, and she cued a dynamic speed-up on “A Sleepin’ Bee,” noting Truman Capote wrote its lyrics. However, in “Besame Mucho,” she momentarily forgot the lyrics and this put her off stride so the song felt truncated.

No problem with “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (which is where I usually sit, by the way), with Fay riding the momentum of Hawkins’ solo to a big-finish vocal. She then sang “Twisted” with all its arch super-hip ironic flourishes in fun fashion. Mostly reserved onstage – she stood and delivered, mostly – she gave “Twisted” some energetic moves that showed she was fully enjoying herself. 

(l-r) Wayne Hawkins, Kaitlyn Fay, Cliff Brucker, Brad Monkell

Then she was loose and lively in her closer, “Lover Come Back to Me,” again cueing a tempo shift as Hawkins’s piano solo included some “Name-that-Tune” quotes of other melodies. 

Fay and the boys fought through some distractions: the almost-always-there black-clad gent put down his Bible to sing along a bit too much, siren-blaring emergency vehicles beat up “Desifinado” and put a noisy coda on the proceedings, and my friend Ricardo’s lawn-chair dumped him unceremoniously (but unhurt) to the pavement. 

Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday, August 4, with the Art D’echo Trio featuring guest Joshua Nelson. Meanwhile, Fay sings Sunday with the Cliff Brucker Trio at Stony’s Irish Grill, 5:30-8:30 p.m.; also on Friday, Aug. 5 at Panza’s. 7-10 p.m.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

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