Salute to jazz great at BWI

Concert: A singer re-creates the voice and look of Billie Holiday for the airport's anniversary celebration.

Arundel Live

May 04, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Baltimore-Washington International Airport was an odd setting for a daytime concert featuring a sultry singer's tribute to Billie Holiday.

But it made sense as part of BWI's full-day salute to the arts in Maryland last week to mark the airport's 50th anniversary.

And the tribute probably would have pleased her.

There was a nice moment in "God Bless the Child" as Larzine Talley sang, "You can help yourself, but don't take too much," when it seemed Holiday was looking over her shoulder.

The major event of the celebration was the unveiling of a collage portraying Maryland artists by Richard Waldrep, commissioned by the Maryland Aviation Administration. The work depicts writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, writer Dashiell Hammett, Holiday and movie director Barry Levinson.

Most prominent in the work is Holiday, who grew up in Baltimore. In 1954, I met her. I heard her sing at a Baltimore club and went backstage between shows.

When I told her my friend and I enjoyed her first show and asked whether she planned to sing "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache" and "Easy Livin'," she seemed to like being asked.

The second show found Lady Day at home in that smoke-filled club, singing every one of those songs in her incomparable style.

This was almost 50 years ago, and Holiday has been gone for 41 years. It might have amused her to know that her voice continues to be heard on movie soundtracks -- and in tributes celebrating the best of Maryland's arts.

Wayne Shipley of the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, with jazz authority John Tegler, helped present the tribute by Talley, of Catonsville, who likes to be identified simply as Larzine when she performs. Wearing a black sequin gown, rhinestone-trimmed sandals and a flower in her hair, Larzine became Lady Day from head to toe.

Her mannerisms were reminiscent of Holiday's -- setting the beat by a light motion of her left hand, hips gently swaying, pelvis thrust forward in Holiday's sassy stance. A winner of Baltimore's first Billie Holiday Vocal Competition in 1990, Larzine, who is jazz great Ethel Ennis' niece, is at home with jazz legends.

These days, Larzine is busy spinning her legend in clubs in New York City and Atlanta, but Tuesday she took time to re-create Holiday's.

For her BWI performance, she was ably backed by tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway, pianist Rob Redd and drummer Jan Tegler. Russian jazzman Victor Dvoskian on bass completed the backup quartet.

Tegler told the crowd Holiday's story, of a little girl who had a harsh childhood in Baltimore. She started singing professionally in 1930, appearing with the Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Artie Shaw and Count Basie bands. By 1940, she had embarked on a solo career that brought her fame and some of her best-known recordings.

Larzine began her tribute with an upbeat Holiday tune, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." She knows how to interpret a lyric, and her voice in the lower register has some of Holiday's color.

She slipped into her character again in another song Holiday wrote -- "Don't Explain," Holiday's response to finding lipstick on her husband's collar: "You're my joy and pain, I'm glad you're back, don't explain."

It was a moving portrayal of a survivor's acceptance and of another era's way of coping, revealing Holiday, the survivor, who sang songs she could feel.

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