A Stranger on Earth: The Dinah Washington Story

Date and Venue 15 December 2013, 7pm | The FanClub, Granville Street

Musicians Jayleen Stonehouse Vocals, Olaf de Shield Guitar, Mark Bender Acoustic Bass, Jesse Cahill Drums, Malcolm Aiken Trumpet, Dave Say Sax, Nick Apivor Piano & Vibraphone

Reviewer John Jane

Jayleen Stonehouse combines a Dinah Washington tribute with a musical biography in A Stranger on Earth, taking its title from Washington’s final recording. Primarily a jazz vocalist, the tribute subject also recorded in genres as diverse as blues, R&B, and even pop. Seriously flawed as a person, but highly talented as an artist, she blazed a trail for many of today’s black cross-over vocalists, like Bettye LaVette and Patti LaBelle.

Stonehouse has timed this presentation with the fiftieth anniversary of the artist’s death on December 14, 1963. She stepped onto the small stage with her five-piece band at the Fanclub in the Granville Entertainment District, about forty minutes later than the advertised time - probably as a result of waiting for the conclusion of the televised NFL game seen on screens around the bar.

The two-hour show is performed chronologically, starting with Washington’s early career blues songs, “Evil Gal Blues” and the ironically titled “Wise Woman Blues” featuring Nick Apivor on vibraphone. Between songs, Stonehouse imparted anecdotes of Washington's personal life, including her many marriages – some lasting only weeks.

Washington is not celebrated to anywhere near the same degree as Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald. Though in fact, she was as skilled an interpreter as any of her contemporaries. Her recording of the Fats Waller song “Ain't Misbehavin” is considered to be the definitive interpretation.

Stonehouse wisely offered her own rendition of these songs, rather than imitate her subject. I found her vocal timbre ideally suited to traditional 12-bar blues than with songs like Fletcher Henderson’s “Soft Winds” that has greater emotional complexity. Although, I did enjoy her take on the country-tinged “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.” Stonehouse concluded the first set with “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair” featuring the sax-playing of Dave Say. It's a song which Washington recorded as an homage to Bessie Smith.

The second set highlighted the successful period of Washington’s career, at least in commercial terms. Even still, I found the first set richer and more interesting and the Granville Street Fanclub is more conducive to the blues bar venues that the young Dinah ostensibly played.

Jayleen Stonehouse is not a full-time tribute artist, but she knows her subject’s material well, and has clearly invested a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” in bringing her show to the public.

© 2013 John Jane