Janette West Quartet holds onto sweetest notes for Sunday Jazz at Hotel Bellwether
Something infinitely cool’s happening at Bellingham, Wash.’s ritzy Hotel Bellwether — just in time for summer. Popular Seattle jazz vocalist Janette West and her band filled in the lovely early evening hours with smooth, surprisingly eclectic, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, jazz this past Sunday.
Every Sunday is Jazz Sunday at the spectacular waterfront hotel, featuring the best the Northwest has to offer. With an upcoming line-up of comforting jazz acts — Trish Hatley, Rane Nogales, and Alicia Dauber — West and her deep, velvety vocals fit right in.
A favorite at the annual North Bend Jazz Walk, West and veteran drummer husband Marty Tuttle welcomed bassist Nate Parker and pianist Ed Weber to the three-set mix.
They kept the tunes short, even the instrumentals, but straight to the point, and the set breaks even shorter. Song selections included standard crowd pleasers from the jazz, Brazilian, blues, and pop families.
As is the jazz standard, West’s band opened up — and warmed up — the first set with Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” as strictly an instrumental. Then West dived in with a Frank Sinatra number, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” pleasing the mostly older crowd of jazz lovers and fellow musicians.
Also standard — the later into the gig, the more adventurous the tunes became. By the time the show wound down toward the bewitching hour of 7 p.m., the much-looser band was ready to tackle Chick Corea/Al Jarreau’s version of “Spain,” Thelonious Monk’s challenging “Ruby, My Dear,” Bill Evans’ “On Green Dolphin Street,” and even a softly swinging jazz cover of Donny Osmond’s 1970s pop smash, “Go Away Little Girl.”
“We were gonna do Christmas songs tonight, but the weather got better,” West quipped before the band brainstormed on how to pull off the Monk tune.
The band did alright on all the tunes, even with little to zero rehearsal time (Weber came in as a guest musician, playing a lot of the sets cold). The musicians spent some time thinking about the next instrumental to play, or getting on the same wavelength about some of the harder tunes, unraveling Monk’s complicated chart, giving the 1962 Gerry Goffin/Carole King pop song, “Go Away Little Girl,” some heft in the piano solo.
The audience at the hotel’s Lighthouse Bar & Grill lounge enjoyed the creative process as much as the performances in large part because of the band’s front woman. Experienced in a whole wide variety of gigs and an assortment of audience types, West always keeps the atmosphere fun, relaxed, and full of small, quiet surprises — her voice being the most delightful one.
West’s understated, deceptively easygoing voice carries every tune in a logical, yet carefree manner. She never heavy-hands the song, or finds any need to sweeten the effects with excessive fireworks. A calm, confident singer, she lets her voice feel its way through the lyrics and the sound of those lyrics in the moment. Her voice actually grew stronger by the time the song began to end.
She sings so effortlessly, you’re lulled into thinking her voice can’t hold up. But then her voice holds loosely onto the notes, swerving into a warm, zesty zone — and you realize this is no singer going through the motions.
Her cover of “Deedles Is My Name” is less spectacular than Diane Schuur’s horn-on-tone squall. But it’s still an accessible, relatable best friend type of blues just the same, maybe a little more inviting, less spectator sport, more of a hang with friends.
Janette West returns June 25 with her trio for Sunday Jazz, 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Sunday Jazz also features all-day Happy Hour (the calamari is to die for!).
More live jazz happens on Tuesdays 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
Blues, Brews, and BBQ fans can show up Thursday for their own live music.