Nikki Yanofsky
plus Michael Kaeshammer

Date and Venue 5 July 2009 @ 7.30pm | The Centre

Reviewer John Jane

Pairing the fifteen-year-old jazz phenomenon, Nikki Yanofsky with the stylish, Vancouver-based jazz pianist Michael Kaeshammer possibly provided jazz patrons with the marquee event of the entire Jazz Festival.

On any other bill, Kaeshammer might have been the headline act, but on this occasion he was on stage first to warm up the audience for Montreal teen-ager, Nikki Yanofsky. From the instant he stepped out on stage with double-bass player Marc Rogers and drummer Mark McLean, Mr Kaeshammer engaged the audience in some hand-clapping and toe-tapping making way for a boogie-woogie interpretation of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Best known for his straight-ahead jazz style, Kaeshammer also reveals a mastery of ragtime, boogie and stride (a piano technique of left-hand split chords). Moreover, he possesses a pleasant vocal style similar to Harry Connick, Jr. as evidenced on the “positive” ballad, Goodbye – a song that tells us that it’s okay to say farewell to some things.

The piano player certainly appears to enjoy flaunting his mischievous sense of humour. "Thanks for showing up" he quipped with a wry grin – as if we (the audience) dropped by on our way to something better.

Kaeshammer frequently employs the fascinating (some would say flashy) technique of ‘plucking’ the piano strings. But unlike some of his contemporaries, he accomplishes it with riveting effect. On his solo rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown, he improvised by using the piano as a percussion instrument.

The trio were joined on stage by a three-piece brass unit for the last tune of their set, blowing the roof off with the Loggins & Messina hit “Your Mama can’t dance” (and your Papa can’t rock n’ roll).

It can take many years to cultivate even an understanding of jazz – let alone perform it. The (very) young and delectable Miss Yanofsky is rapidly following in the footsteps of the other Canadian jazz troubadours, Diana Krall and Emilie-Claire Barlow – except she’s doing it at half their age!

At the final concert in the ‘Classic Sounds at the Centre’ series, Yanofsky and the eight-piece band playing behind her, came out swinging with Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train, quickly followed by the much covered, Hallelujah, I just love him so.

The fetching Miss Y, appropriately dressed for a mid-teen in a simple knee-length frock and flat shoes, still retains a girlish tone and engages the audience in the kind of “giggley-and-wriggley” demeanour that one might expect from an average fifteen-year-old. But it’s her intelligent phrasing and confident ease with a complex lyric that gives her a maturity beyond her years.

A natural performer, she possesses a range of vocal stylings that enables her to switch easily from the gospel-tinged God Bless the Child to the bluesy Jimi Hendrix tune The Wind Cries Mary that was closer to the Cassandra Wilson cover than the original as well as an incredible interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s folksy The Circle Game.

Though without doubt, she was at her best with Ella Fitzgerald’s scat number, Airmail Special and even more so with the swinging Lullaby of Birdland featuring North Vancouverite Tom Colclough’s sublime baritone saxophone.

Drawing a standing ovation from an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd on her first ever gig in Vancouver, an encore was as much anticipated as it was hoped for. Never likely to disappoint, Miss Y returned with pianist John Sadowy to perform Somewhere over the Rainbow.

A colossal thanks to Nikki Yanofsky, Michael Kaeshammer and Coastaljazz for giving Vancouver a cool evening of jazz on a hot July night.

© 2009 John Jane