JAMES ON JAZZ By Robin James—Singer Debbie Duncan celebrates a milestone

Hometown “First Lady of Song” Duncan Duncan will be celebrating her 60th birthday at Arnellia’s Aug. 7. -Photo courtesy of debbieduncan.net

Billy Strayhorn’s song “Something to Live For” comes to mind as I write this column. As I’m thinking of what music grabs me, pushes me forward, I feel the need to backtrack a bit.

Let’s think about sincerity for a minute. Writing with sincerity is one thing. Writing about something in a new way without sounding like you’ve just strung along a bunch of hollow words is another.

Thank goodness for good editors. And I’ve had and have some good ones now. Boy, does having a good editor make all the difference in the world when you’re trying to get your point across. Writing original content with sincerity for a mainstream readership, or any kind of readership, is tough enough. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like creating and playing jazz with sincerity.

People — an audience — know the difference between real sincerity and some jive a** fake s***. It’s not hard to spot. But what is hard is having enough of the real stuff, real music actually reaching your ears and inspiring something in you.

I would love to have enough disposable income, or discretionary income (same thing), to buy as many CDs by established artists and jazz world upstarts as I wanted. I would also love to go out and support those same artists as much as I wanted. I want to buy tickets, drinks, and some food. But the fact is I ain’t got it like that. And I’m not alone.

No amount of comp tickets, or free review CDs, is gonna change that. But what I do have is a handful of record labels who send me stuff that I can use for the most part. The problem is I wish I felt more inspired to listen to them all. Lately, listening to a bunch of CDs just isn’t turning me on.

Sure, I listen to the free MP3s I get by email, too. I don’t know, maybe I need to drive around in a convertible for hours listening to music. Summer is fading quickly.

The truth is I’m just not that into the jazz offerings that I’m seeing at the moment. Maybe I’m bored? Perhaps unchallenged?

So, what is turning me on? The prospect of vibrant jazz programming coming this fall. The prospect of blockbuster talent mixed in with some imaginative bookings this year and into the next. The prospect of inspiring new music that I still need to request by these bandleaders: pianist/composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s new CD Fé…Faith (5Passion, 2011) and drummer/composer Terri Lyne Carrington’s new CD, The Mosaic Project (Concord, 2011).

And I’ve continued to extend beyond jazz for my album-buying experience. The last satisfying CD I purchased was Jill Scott’s The Light of the Sun (Blues Babe, 2011).

Debbie Duncan
Speaking of strong female vocalists, I plan to attend Debbie Duncan’s 60th birthday party at Arnella’s on Sunday, Aug. 7. That should be fun. Give it up for our very own hometown talent, “First Lady of Song,” for gracing us with her presence night after night. Reminding us to lighten up and laugh at ourselves once in a while.

If you’re not uplifted by the time this woman stops singing “South of the Border,” from her CD Travelin’ at the Speed of Love (Danti, 2002), I don’t know what will do it. If you caught her at the Artists’ Quarter last month, you know what I’m talking about. She sang a beautiful rendition of “The Summer Knows” with Jeff Bailey delivering a fierce acoustic bass solo. Debbie’s latest CD is I Thought About You (FSMusic, 2005).

Yes, it’s hard to believe Debbie is turning 60! So, let’s just pause for a moment and appreciate all the wonderful music that she’s given us over the years on various stages around the cities. Now if you want to know what sincerity sounds like, all you have to do is listen to Debbie sing. She keeps it 100 percent. Whether Debbie is talking about her professional life or personal life on stage, she always comes across as creative and sincere. How hard can it be?

So, maybe this column doesn’t represent a great moment in big creativity, but that’s what happens sometimes. The good news is that you never know when inspiration will strike. So, I keep my antenna up. That’s what artists do.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com.

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