Interpreting the legacy of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald shouldn’t be easy as singer Patti Austin made it look at the Carpenter Theatre Saturday night. The Grammy Award-winning singer ran though a dozen of Fitzgerald's classic songs, even imitating the late singer’s scatting note for note. The singer’s comfort and ease was even more remarkable considering that she almost didn’t make the show.
Austin’s flight was canceled and she wound up stranded for three hours in a Texas airport with some cowboys. She finally arrived in Richmond, too late for a rehearsal. But if she hadn’t told the audience all of this we wouldn’t have known. The show was nearly flawless, minus one abrupt lighting change after “Satin Doll.”
The New Yorker’s wit is almost as sharp as her voice. She referred to herself as the Susan Lucci of singers because she was frequently nominated for Grammys before finally winning one in 2008. She seems to have put the years of frustration behind her; except for the year she lost to “that bitch” Diana Krall. “She’s not even from America, people,” she says. “She’s a freakin’ Canadian!”
Austin is one of those few artists who can talk to an audience without losing them. Throughout the night, she told stories about Ella Fitzgerald and kept the attention of the packed theater. She mentioned Fitzgerald’s aversion to drugs, but suggested that one of hits, “A Tisket a Tasket,” might have been inspired by a contact high from being around jazz musicians. Austin’s version of the jazz standard also reached great heights.
The first half of the show showcased the orchestra, as it performed faithful versions of songs timeless American classics, under the accomplished direction of conductor Erin R. Freeman.