It is a pity that so few got to experience Jazz in July, which featured headline act Cheryl Pepsii Riley, last weekend. Presented by Victory International and held at the Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on Saturday and Sunday nights, the show also featured the likes of Vaughnette Bigford, Glenda Collens, Theron Shaw, Dane Gulston, R'kardo St'von and Mungal Patasar. The empty seats in the large hall were hard to miss. But what the show lost in patrons it certainly made up for in performance.
The Sunday night line up got started by Bigford, whose set included Ralph Mc Donald's Tradewinds, Billie Holiday's Good Morning Heartache and her tribute to Michael Jackson, the late singer's Lady in my Life, given a contemporary jazz treatment.
Bigford, who was backed by Theron Shaw and his band, later shared that she arranged the song and liked the way it turned out. Pannist Nigel Supersad also held the spotlight on the night and played a set that included two of his own compositions, including the danceable No Matter What. All would agree, however, that the night belonged to Riley, who, with her band Hot Chocolate, had the rapt attention of all from the minute she stepped on stage to when the curtain closed.
During her hour-long performance, she rendered a mix of popular hits and jazz standards, all of which showed off her vocal range. Via a flawless sound system, Riley delivered Nina Simone's Four Women with the sincerity and passion of a storyteller. She then injected a dose of R&B to Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me and had the audience singing along with her to Dawn Penn's You Don't Love Me (No No No). Of course Riley couldn't leave the stage without singing her 1988 hit Thanks for My Child, the song written by Bow Legged Lou of Full Force that made her a star.
Backing band Hot Chocolate too didn't disappoint and featured strong with the jazz standard Night in Tunisia, in which Riley was a powerhouse vocally. Between songs, a chatty Riley made the audience laugh with her stories about love and relationships. She also introduced Dean James, her band's drummer, whom she said was born in T&T. Like Bigford, Riley also paid tribute to the late Jackson with the song I Can't Help It and the Jackson Five hit I Want You Back. Victory International's Stacey Weekes Codrington said the show was in tribute to her late father, calypsonian Lord Blakie. She wants the concert to be an annual event.