Josephine Beavers brings her cool jazz to 54 Below.
By: Patrick Christiano
December 7, 2022: Josephine Beavers wowed the audience on Tuesday, the opening night of a two-night engagement at 54 Below. Returning to the supper club after her 2019 debut, she did not disappoint and may be like a fine wine that becomes better with age. She performed with an amazing band, under the musical direction of Ed Vodicka on piano, who gave the evening a big band feel with his superb arrangements. Her style is warm, yet sophisticated and her smooth distinctive voice displayed an easy command of a polished craft.
The quintette set a lively tone opening the 9:30pm show with a colorful interpretation of the classic “Sleigh Ride,” before Beavers made her way to the stage in shimmering sequins for a spirited “Winter Wonderland,” followed by an impeccable rendition of the Irving Berlin classic “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” The gal can sing, as she proved, moving effortlessly into an intimate “Where Or When,” from Rogers & Hart’s Babes in Arms.
After bringing Mario, a restauranteur, to the stage for the Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” she segued beautifully into the modern classic “Cry Me A River” followed by a moving “Sometimes I’m Happy (Sometimes I’m Blue). She really hit her stride on the popular jazz standard “Tenderly,” before sharing about her mother, a jazz singer, who taught her the next song as a young girl, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s popular American standard, “The Folks Who Live On The Hill.”
Beavers’ journey back to professional performing is an inspirational tale. Singing since the age of three and influenced by her mother she began a career as a vocalist but stopped singing professionally in her early 20s to focus on her marriage and children. However, she performed at many corporate events and even opened for The Count Basie Orchestra at Chicago’s Regal Theater, besides touring as a guest singer with The McDonald’s High School Band. When her husband of 51 years died, her children were now adults and the stars aligned for her return to the limelight in 2019. Things proceeded in short order culminating with her 2019 performance at 54 Below and the 2020 release of the CD Prime Time, a selection of 15 songs from The Great American Songbook, a dream project of her longtime friend the musical arranger Ed Vodicka.
Her enthusiasm for a PBS Documentary, a new project she is involved with about “The Green Book,” the bible for black Americans performing in the deep South during the 1940s and 1950s giving detailed information where to eat, sleep and shower while touring there, was apparent. The doc features musicians now in their 80s and 90s, who were the pioneers, and are still working today. She said her next song, George, and Ira Gershwin’s “S Wonderful,” from Funny Face, was an anthem of the project.
She closed out her set with a medley of Christmas songs finishing with “In The Still of The Night. Her appreciative audience brought Beavers back twice, first she did the popular classic “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and then one that has become a jazz standard “Teach Me Tonight.” Backed by the big band sound of Ed Vodicka featuring Steve La Spina, Tony Tedesco, Glenn Drewes and Gary Keller, Beavers reigned supreme with her cool jazz for an evening of enduring classics. She returns to 54 Below on December 29.
Photography: Barry Gordin