Thinking outside the box when the subject of jazz is discussed has become increasingly difficult during the last 20 years, especially so when examining the genre as an American art form. What has transpired in that amount of time has been a transitory attitude having little if any historical significance. In Houston, Texas, Da Camera of Houston an arts organization goes to great lengths to insure that jazz is highlighted as a form of artistic impressionism. For more than fourteen years, Da Camera’s artistic season has included jazz as a segmented part of their total program. In addition, chamber, classical, opera and international influences are also major thrusts of the organization’s annual schedule. To kick their jazz season off in 2007, violinist Regina Carter and special guest vocalist Carla Cook performed at Houston’s Wortham Theater Center.
As a classically trained violinist, Regina Carter is one of the many artists who make jazz visible as an art form. Another qualifying aspect of her influence is the instrument she plays, which is mostly heard in European classical or country music settings. When the idea of discussing the violin in a jazz setting arises, many individuals become single-minded and fail to think outside the box. Although artists such as Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith, Noel Pointer, Jean Luc Ponty, Michael Urbaniak, Michael Ward and a host of others have focused upon the violin as a jazz instrument, Regina Carter above all the others has taken the instrument to a much higher level. In her repertoire of jazz, Carter includes the elements of traditional classical music during her performances and on many of her recordings. This was especially evident on the album ‘Paganini After A Dream,’ a release that fueled Regina’s passionate embrace of jazz and classical music collectively. Her latest CD entitled ‘I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey’ continues a journey that combines those same influences with American music. That was the essential theme of her Da Camera performance in Houston.
The Regina Carter Sextet featuring clarinetist Darryl Harper, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Alvester Garnett presented a high-octane performance of sentimental favorites from Carter’s latest release. Many of the songs showcased were in tribute to her mother, Grace Louise Carter, who passed away in 2005. According to Regina: "She was the reason for everything my brothers and I are and have. We couldn’t have asked for anything more." As such has been her objective for the past two years, Carter’s album and associated performances are dedicated to the memory of a very special lady. Mrs. Carter’s favorite songs were popular standards and jazz classics from the 1920s through the 1940s made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Rogers and Hart and a number of other notable influences.
Regina Carter’s performance was enlightening and had a learning attached as well. Not only is she a virtuoso violinist, Regina has the ability to tell stories with her instrument as well. During the concert, she spoke of the first time she picked up the violin and what that sounded like, while other aspects of the evening included her introduction to jazz by her childhood friend Carla Cook. From that moment on jazz became a passionate embrace as an influence. Ms. Cook performed on Regina’s latest release and during Da Camera’s concert as well. Two songs in particular entitled "You Took Advantage of Me" and "St. Louis Blues" introduced her exceptional vocalese, which by far ranks her as one of the finest vocalists around today. Her sensitivity to detail and scatting ability is a true testament to an era of female singers frequented by Ella Fitzgerald and so many others.
One of the more compelling songs presented was the tune entitled "I’ll Be Seeing You" written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain. Regina displayed a level of melodic passion that has been an integral characteristic of the violin throughout history. Unlike her predecessors, Ms. Carter’s influence on jazz has been that same level of instrumental response heard in classical music. Regina’s percussive and melodic style is one of her primary attributes. By all accounts, the audience at the Wortham Theater Center was well pleased with The Regina Carter Sextet and Carla Cook, including selections from her previously released CD entitled ‘Paganini: After A Dream.’
Regina Carter has inaugurated herself into fast becoming one of the most profoundly prolific jazz violinists of her generation. From the very onset of her career with the all female jazz group Straight Ahead, Regina’s voice in jazz has had a major impact overall. Her ability to combine classical influences with the rudiments of traditional jazz, popular and R&B music drives home the notion that jazz is directly related to artistic impressionism. Da Camera’s treatment of jazz reinforces the idea that this genre of music is truly an original American art form.