SHADES OF “SASSY":
SINGER JANIS MANN AT THE LAX CROWNE PLAZA
You may remember vocalist Janis Mann. Although a New York native (Brooklyn
and Long Island)
she lived and sang in Southern California from 1976-1993 working in such jazz venues as the Alley
Cat Bistro. She then moved to Seattle where she developed an enthusiastic following. Janis returned
about four months ago and is once again becoming a name on the local scene.
Jazz has been defined as the “sound of surprise” and Janis was surprising us all evening with deftly
renewed standards, each of which she arranged. For example she performed the sad DePaul-Raye
standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” with an imaginative bossa beat. “Never Let Me Go,”
which is usually performed as a slow ballad, was done as a very fast samba. The Van Heusen-Burke
gem “But Beautiful” was sung with the verse, as it always should be. Janis is that rare jazz artist who
can break your heart with a slow-beat ballad (e.g., “Too Late Now”) and then turn around and swing
most convincingly (“This Can’t Be Love”). I am not ordinarily a fan of scatting but hers is not simply a
disposable show of technique. It is unhistrionic and true as an oboe as she demonstrated on the beloved
Harburg-Lane standard “Old Devil Moon.”
Space does not permit mention of each song but, suffice to say, that Janis has an impeccable repertoire.
Two of her selections, “Darn That Dream” and “Angel Eyes” had distinct Sarah Vaughan endings. Over
the years, many reviewers and fans have noted Janis’ similarity in range, timbre and flexibility to the beloved
“Sassy.” The similarity is there but, although Vaughan was obviously an influence, Janis is her own person
and, like the best of jazz musicians, possesses an individual style. The essence of jazz singing lies in three
elusive qualities: timbre, phrasing and time and Janis displayed total command of each; she is no slavish
I have focused on Janis’ expressive, buoyant voice but mention should also be made of her dynamic stage
presence and natural ease. She loves to sing and that love shows and she exhibits the vivacious flare needed
to make an audience happy. Speaking of her audience, you can tell a lot about a particular artist by looking
at the listeners he/she draws. Well, the room at the LAX Crowne Plaza Hotel was filled with overjoyed fans
and various “movers & shakers” from the Southern California jazz community. Janis Mann has quickly and
obviously become a local favorite.
She was backed by the stellar trio of pianist Tom Garvin, bassist Chris Colangelo and Paul Kreibich
at the drums. These three obviously have a love affair with their instrument and collectively and individually
know how to embrace a vocalist with musicianship, passion and imagination. The band was swinging with
Janis all the way and their mutual respect made for tight presentation.
For information on Janis Mann and her recordings, visit her website at http://www.JanisMann.com
A warm thanks to Merle Kreibich for continuing to present the very best.
- Roger Crane
L.A. Jazz Scene, August 2006