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Jazz Legend Mary Stallings showed off her artistry at Izzy Asper Jazz Performances stage on Nov 26

by Rhonda Spivak, November 27, 2022


Mary Stallings, the 84 year old queen of jazz delivered a stunning performance with take your breath away ballads and smoky jazz standards which led to a standing ovation, at the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances on November 26 put on by the Asper Foundation and the Rady JCC  at the Berney Theatre. There were about 175 people in the audience. 


Stallings, who said music " is food for our souls" and "I hope we've touched your hearts" appeared with three talented musicians--David Udolf on piano, Ron Bleher on Bass and Jeff Minnieweather on Drums, who together made up the Mary Stallings Quartet.


I've certainly never heard a better jazz vocalist than the elegant Stalling, whose seasoned , ripe, mature voice is timeless, and can not help but impress. In 2001, the New York times  referred to her as "perhaps the best jazz singer singing today,"  and I can certainly see why. The New York Times  went on to describe Stalling's voice as follows: "One hears the lithe charm and impeccable rhythmic vitality of Ella Fitzgerald; the steel-sheathed vulnerability of Holiday; the bottomless vocalese of Sarah Vaughan; Dinah Washington's earthy blues sense and Jimmy Scot's ethereal phrasing, alongside more than a whisper of Carmen McRae's regal musicality."
Every song Stalling sang was delicious, with my favorite being the ballad "Lady Bird," which can be found on her 2019 CD, Songs Were Made to Sing.( The CD was being sold after the concert, with much interest from the appreciative audience). Stalling's sense of swing, time, and pulse is so  unique that she owns each tune. Another favorite of mine was her rendition of  a song I was not previously familiar with, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."  During the performance, Stallings picked songs that she clearly loves to sing, and that she can relate to, and her love of jazz infused the Berney Theatre. She  ended the evening by singing a beautiful rich ballad, "The Nearness of You."
Born and raised  in  San Francisco, the middle child of 11 siblings, Stallings began performing professionally when she was only eight years old with her mother and two older sisters at church in a gospel group.  She imbibed jazz at home, while sitting in at rehearsals with her uncle, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Orlando Stallings. Stallings who gravitated toward jazz, was by her teens  performing in Bay area clubs in the 50's.  

After stints with Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine in the '60s, Stallings toured with the Count Basie Orchestra as a featured vocalist from 1969 until 1972. She was still in Basie's employ, when in 1971,  she gave birth to her only child, R&B singer Adriana Evans. Stallings has shared the bill with such luminaries as Joe Williams, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. Stallings went into semi-retirement from music to stay home and raise her daughter. Stallings returned to full time singing in the early 80's and returned to the recording studio a decade later, and has added several acclaimed recordings to her list. She has performed in jazz festivals across North America and Europe.
The Izzy Asper Jazz Performances return with  the Jon Locke Quartet & Kenny Washington on March 25/26 2023 and the Bruce Bart Trio on April 15/16 2023. I have no doubt those two concerts will also be terrific.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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