Unfortunately, Clairdee isn’t as well known as Nancy Wilson. Or Etta Jones. Or Dinah Washington. Or Ernestine Anderson. Or many of the other singers who adopt similar approaches toward jazz singing that cover the emotions that all of us feel in their own knowing and styles conversational styles based upon the spirit of the blues.
So, even before her first note, Clairdee, addressing her audience at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, rouses laughter as she encourages even more applause when she walks out: "That’s what I want to hear all night long, even if you’re fakin’ it." And then her singing of "Yes Sir, That’s My Baby" follows her patter as naturally as if it were a continuation of her conversation with someone in the front row. For after she flattens thirds and converts two words, "yes sir," into a bluesy ascent, throws in a high-pitched "whoo!" and interjects laughs into her performance as if she suddenly received insight into the meaning of the lyrics. And that’s the first chorus, sung over Ron Belcher’s walking bass. When the back-up trio and saxophonist Charles McNeal come in to anchor Clairdee in a solid swing rhythm, the audience is solidly enraptured by the performance, applauding and shouting only two minutes into the concert.
Beyond Clairdee’s ability to reach an audience, French’s arrangements involve originality combined with the overriding intention to highlight the strengths of her voice. On "Cheek To Cheek," the arrangement features an animating introduction that leads into her vocals that achieve a sense of floating ease above the prodding piano accents. And the closing number for the concert, "Alright, Okay, You Win," a product of Clairdee’s imagination and her theme song, combines the power of the Basie Band’s performance of the title song with the famous Eddie Harris/Les McCann recording of "Cold Duck Time." And it works. McNeal takes over the Harris part on tenor sax, building up the excitement during the introduction, when Clairdee sings "Alright, Okay, You Win" to the changes of "Cold Duck Time." The spirit of the tune, though, lies in the thrill of the Harris/McCann unforgettable performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, particularly wen McNeal and French take over the solos in the midst of the song.
In a concert of outstanding performances, Clairdee’s ability to bring out the sauciness and the joy of the blues comes through on "Someone Else Is Steppin’ In," a tale of vindictiveness when the wizened wronged female locks out her cheatin’ man. And she puts her own imprint on Gershwin’s so-often-recorded "Summertime," as she interprets it through an R&B perspective, made more 1970’s-ish by French’s Fender Rhodes accompaniment, reminiscent of some of Roberta Flack’s well-known work of decades ago.
Tough insufficiently recorded, Clairdee proves without a doubt on Music Moves that she should be considered as one of the jazz vocalists certainly deserving of wider recognition. In fact, she should already have achieved it, but for her emphasis upon West Coast venues.