SUSIE ARIOLI SWING BAND, SUGAR RAY NORCIA & THE BLUETONES and JOEY DEFRANCESCO at the Beaches International Jazz Festival, July 29. Tickets: free. Rating: NNN
the most amazing thing aboutthe Beaches International Jazz Festival is the sheer diversity of the crowd. Where else can you find grizzled biker dudes in leather vests, parents patiently trailing their face-painted toddlers and earnest teens trying to impress their dates, all in one place? You've got to wonder how performers manage to keep the attention of such a massive, motley crew. Having a remarkably diverse lineup helped.
The wide-ranging crowd was rapt during the Susie Arioli Swing Band's set of jazzy standards, moving from doo-woppy 50s pop to sizzling torch numbers. The Montreal-based Arioli proved she's got a great set of pipes -- at her best, she recalls Sarah Vaughan, whose No Smokes Blues she covered. Axeman Jordan Officer's resonant guitar was a great match for Arioli's soulful crooning on Duke Ellington's I Got It Bad.
Arioli might want to work on her stage banter, though. Her ballsy dame act reminded me of Jann Arden's embarrassing onstage comedy routine, and her broken Frenglish puns were missed by most of the crowd.
Big Joe and the Dynaflows were no-shows, but their last-minute replacement, blues outfit Sugar Ray Norcia & the Bluetones, had the audience hopping with a rowdy set.
Harpist and frontman Norcia's gravelly voice was well suited to barroom anthems like Rockin' Sugar Daddy and the surf-tinged Got Love If You Want It. You could almost smell the spilled beer and Lucky Strike butts.
Not exactly wholesome family entertainment, and it was slightly unnerving to see two four-year-olds gyrating in front of the stage and pretending to sing lyrics like "Girl, I know you've been balling every man in town."
Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco catered better to the kids with sing-along numbers like a carnivalesque version of Mack The Knife. DeFrancesco is best known for his improvisational skills, but after three or four extended jams, the organ noodling grew tiresome. Experimentation is one thing, but there's something to be said for getting to the point.