Shemekia Copeland shakes up elegant Jazz at Lincoln Center
A blues-belter with a beautiful big voice and cred in the rockin’, bawdy, electric tradition, Shemekia Copeland brought afunky good time to the elegant Allen Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center last Thursday night (and probably Friday, too), backed by a a tight four-man band, carrying a slew of fresh and catchy songs.
It’s unusual to hear a woman in her early 30s be so powerfully plain-spoken, whether with a wide smile (“I’m a wild, wild woman, and you’re a lucky man”)
or haunting shiver (“Never Going Back to Memphis” from her latest cd, Never Going Back).
It’s even more unusual for a blues performer to warm up an NYC crowd in the comfortable but oh-so-polished 200+ seat venue against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Columbus Circle, Central Park West and 59th St. to the point where people are shouting “2 a.m.!” or clapping intuitively on the two and four beats. But Shemekia, daughter of the late Texas-out-of-Africa blues guitarist Johnny Copeland who claims she’d been singing blues privately since she was 8 years old, did it. She was spontaneous — she doesn’t keep a set list, decides what to sing in the moment — and candidly funny. Not a tall woman and having curves, she struggled in a tight skirt to find a comfortable seat on a bar stool, adding that the taller stool she’d had for the first set wasn’t any better. “I guess I don’t know how to sit,” she shrugged, before singing a rather sentimental number about a beat up old guitar, acoustically and affectingly.
Shemekia Copeland tours out of Chicago, though she was born in Harlem. She signed to Telarc Records 9n 2009 after debuting on Alligator in 1997. She’s on tour constantly, has won a lot of awards and praise, and says she’s in New York City often, so I look forward to seeing her live again soon.