FOLLOWING last year’s tremendous ode to Billie Holiday, Southern Holiday Jazz Band and friends are back to pay tribute to one of pop music’s most iconic women.
Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom, got her start by singing on local radio during and after her high school years. At 17, she left home in North Dakota and headed for Los Angeles. There, while singing at The Buttery Room nightclub, she caught Benny Goodman’s eye, and became the vocalist of his jazz band in 1941. She went on to enjoy a recording career at Capitol Records and received three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award nomination, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Her elegance, grace, and distinctive purr earned Lee the name “The Queen of Cool” as she cooed now-classics like “Fever” and “Why Don’t You Do Right (Get Me Some Money Too)” with smoky allure. A trailblazing starlet with incredibly diverse and flexible talent, Lee not only sang in an array of genres (she embraced rock ‘n’ roll in its early stages), but was also a highly skilled songwriter, actress, and more. To this day, she continues to be an inspiration and style icon.
Jane Ogle (vocals), Linus Enoksson (bass), Jackson Evans (guitar), Jared Hall (piano), David Harris (drums), and John Tisbert (trumpet) will whisk audiences back in time with their arrangements. But Ogle is no impersonator—as shown in her Billie Holiday tribute, these are loving, respectful salutes to American icons, and, lucky for us, the exquisitely talented Ogle and Lee share a vocal range.
We chatted with pianist/Trinity United Methodist Church Director of Music Jared Hall and vocalist Jane Ogle about the upcoming performance and Lee’s impressive legacy.
On the tribute’s conception:
Jared Hall: [Ogle and I] came up with it together last year. We did the Billie Holiday tribute with her, and it went super-well! I really loved it, I love the idea of putting together a really great band—there’s a lot of great local cats playing—and, of course, [Ogle] does such a great job. She’s not becoming the singer like an impersonation, but does a great job of interpreting the music and songs. Just like the Billie Holiday one, she’s put a whole program together with historic and cultural information and backstories on the songs.
Jane Ogle: Really, it was Jared’s idea! Right after we did the Billie Holiday show, he and Jackson [Evans] had been talking about a Peggy Lee tribute, and I said, ‘Okay, I’m in!’
It’s taken a year—well, not quite a year, it’s been a year and a half since the Billie show—it’s taken awhile to pull everybody’s schedules together and pull all the material together.
She had such a long and varied career, and in some ways, it was almost easier to work on the Billie show because she had a tragically short career. [Lee’s] was vast, and she was such a trailblazer in her own songwriting—she took a lot of chances in her recording career. It’s really an interesting bridge, going through all of it.
Why Peggy Lee?
JH: There’s such a great repertoire out there of her stuff. We were just tossing around some really great women artists, thinking about Patsy Cline and a lot of different things.
But most importantly, it was how Peggy Lee combined jazz and country. We’d already talked about me playing piano and Jackson playing guitar, and she brings together our two genres with me being more of the country, honky-tonk playing, and Jackson being more on the jazz side.
JO: I’m old enough to have remembered her still performing and being on TV all the time through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s. She had a Broadway show in the ‘80s, so I was familiar with some of her work, but actually, the material Jared was most interested in covering was coming from her big band and cool jazz array, swing days, which I wasn’t really familiar with at all. That was eye-opening; it’s great material, and was an interesting transitional time in jazz music between instrumental being at the forefront and then vocalists taking over, in a good way.
What songs are you most looking forward to performing?
JH: I love ‘em all! I love ‘Fever,’ and there’s going to be some cool stuff, too, these complete band moments, a lot of stuff that’s like her recordings: super-subtle. It all works out in rehearsals. There may be some numbers that are a little different, bass and drums only with vocals. One piece is just piano and trumpet with vocals and John Tisbert on trumpet.
JO: There’s a couple of tunes. One in particular that I really like from her early days with Benny Goodman that Jackson Evans and I will perform as a duet is ‘You’re Easy to Dance With.’ It’s not particularly a well-known tune, but it’s an interesting song and it’s a good dance number from the swing dance days.
Another song I’m particularly fond of that I hope we can pull off—the original recording is very heavily orchestrated—is a song by Rogers and Hart called ‘Lover.’ The arrangement itself is really unique, it’s extremely percussive...it’s hard to describe. The original song was a waltz, and Peggy and her arranger, Victor Young, turned into 4/4 and completely changed the feel of the song.
Much like the Billie Holiday show, there’s a little history and context, too.
JO: I like to try to weave that into a tribute show. It’s interesting to me to dive into the personal history of these artists and see how that informs their choices in music, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t necessarily read into someone’s psyche just because they sang a certain song a certain way, but when it does dovetail, I think it’s fascinating.