The fourth annual Low Country Jazz Festival ended Sunday night with class. A large audience at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center was treated to two distinct jazz styles by two terrific bands.
Headliner Al Jarreau, 72 and fully recovered from recent health problems, might have looked a bit frail on stage, but he commanded it with his charm, professionalism and unique vocal abilities. He offered up a couple of late-career tunes such as “Random Act of Love,” “Double Face” and “Scooch Your Booty,” as well as several familiar ones — “After All,” “We’re In This Love Together” and “Take Five.”
His band played impeccably, and bassist Chris Walker even stepped forward to sing a tune himself, showing off a lyrical tenor that wowed listeners.
Jarreau was especially engaging when he abandoned the lyrics and improved vocally, something he’s always done well. His voice doesn’t quite flourish as it once did, but that distinctive sound, big range and improvisational skills that have been his most recognizable attributes over the years were evident. His banter between tunes was fun, his percussive vocalese even more so.
Opening for Jarreau was Charleston’s own Charlton Singleton Quartet with special guest Cyrus Chestnut on piano. This was more classic jazz than smooth (though there were a couple of elegantly melodic tunes thrown into the set for good measure).
It was good to see this band on a big stage, which they used well, and it was very good indeed to hear Chestnut’s fingers dance and slap and roll up and down that keyboard. This man is BAD.
Singleton and Chestnut, joined by Mark Sterbank on sax, Reggie Sullivan on bass and Dave Patterson on drums, played original tunes by the pianist and trumpeter that showed off both lyricism and hard bop in equal measure.
Chestnut’s “Scuttlebutt” was a latin-flavored romp. It was followed by Singleton’s sweet, mid-tempo “Gradual Lean” and another tune, “Soul Mate,” by Chestnut.
A highlight of the set was a jazz version of “Wade in the Water,” which the band played with verve and listeners received with enthusiasm.
Tammy Greene, the Jazz Diva, put the festival together to help raise money for Thaddeus Bell’s Closing the Gap in Healthcare scholarship fund, and everyone involved — musicians and audience alike — appreciated the effort.