Atlanta Jazz Vocalist Gwen Hughes
While Atlanta’s jazz scene is not exactly thriving, there are pockets of the real thing, and vocalist Gwen Hughes is a big part of it.
On Saturday, Hughes performed at Actor’s Express with Mike Hinton, her fiancé, on drums and Bill Wilson, son of the late, great jazz pianist Teddy Wilson, on electric keyboards. As well as singing standards—a soulful rendition of “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” and a slow phrasing of the Gershwin brothers’ “Love is Here to Stay”—Hughes fused the set with blues, pop and show tunes. Her upbeat version of “Singing in the Rain” was a wonderful stray from the version Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly made famous, and was just as welcoming and upbeat.
Whether she’s mimicking a trombone player with her scat singing or belting out blues or pop, Hughes’s music pours out of her voice and body, sometimes in such contortions that she looks and sounds like a possessed Janis Joplin. But there’s no way to pigeonhole her style, as she clearly is influenced by a disparate group of rock, soul, gospel and jazz musicians.
A busy performer, two nights later Hughes was at Café 290 in Sandy Springs accompanying trumpeter Joe Gransden and a 16-piece big band from Jazz Orchestra Atlanta. She accompanied the band on a couple of tunes, including her own, “Dust of My Dreams,” which she co-wrote with JOA member and Georgia State University saxophone teacher Mace Hibbard.
Gransden, who has a large following around Atlanta and New York, is also a crooner. He sang a number of standards and Sinatra tunes–“Come Fly With Me” and “Luck Be a Lady”– in the same style as Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Sitting in with the big band this night was former Atlanta Symphony Orchestra member, Christopher Martin, who now holds the Principal Trumpet post with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The two two trumpeters bantered playfully on “Carnival of Venice,” as Martin played it in its traditional classical form and Gransden jazzed it up with bebop.
Gransden and JOA hold court at Café 290 the first and third Mondays each month. While typically this weekday is known as a slow night for entertainment venues, the place is packed when Gransden plays, so reserve in advance for the best seats.
For the next two weeks Hughes will be performing throughout Europe, but she returns to Atlanta at the end of the month, where she will be playing at numerous venues around town.