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Illuminating Ella: Regina Carter at the Jazz Kitchen

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Illuminating Ella: Regina Carter at the Jazz Kitchen

Photo by Mark Sheldon

The glow rises upward, outward. incrementally touching each nook of the Jazz Kitchen.  Pianist Xavier Davis doodles a greeting; violinist Regina Carter floats her reply. Their conversation co-mingles as a saunter. We tag along, not so much to eavesdrop as to catch the knowing bouyancy. 

What’s happening on Nov. 2 becomes autobiographical, biographical, revelatory, exploratory, celebratory. It’s the continuation of the ‘Ella at 100’ moment—Ella as the gift-giver remarked upon from Regina Carter’s soul. It’s mining the lesser known aspects of Ella that touched and gave succor to a young violinist with a gift that didn’t easily fit into the expectant molds. It’s the thank you for Carter’s road taken—“I can speak on my own,” replied Carter when I asked why the hard path of a solo career. “I don’t have to say it in an explicit way.” 

That’s a glyph on Ella’s path into our cognizance.

Regina Carter’s quiet elegance can erupt into a feisty cascade as she interprets the lesser-known Ella Fitzgerald canon, in easy correlation with Xavier Davis, whose sensibility strides right alongside hers. At the close of the first set, a knowing attendee complimented Davis on the embracing “Harmonic treatment” in relation to Carter’s melodic lines. 

This comment underscored what I was discerning for what put this program apart from just about every other I’ve attended at the Jazz Kitchen over its twenty-five years at the corner of 54th and College. Tonight, listening was at its best. There was no undercurrent of —o.k., I’ll say it, and take the flack—distracting whispered buzz. Attentive listening opens us to the nuances of what is happening musically.

Carter’s improvisational strengths are tied to her own intuitions as a listener. She was in midst of formulating the playlist when I approached her for a one-on-one conversation a half hour before the first set.  At the end of the set, that list represented Carter’s ability to hear what the audience was connecting with, her flexibility to change, and Davis’ adeptness to travel right along. What we experienced was a personal interpretation of Ella’s inimitable style. Soul to soul, speaking across time, still conquering the self-doubts and the public-detours without hubris. 

Music was part of Regina Carter’s everyday world growing up in Detroit. Her life path has been slow and steady. Even now she thinks of herself of a journey[wo]man jazz violinist, within the company of pioneers in the genre. Carter’s delight was totally honest when I shared my just-arrived 2020 calendar from the National Museum of African American History & Culture. June features violinist Ginger Smock, “a critical figure in the development of the Los Angeles scene,” also described as a trailblazing leader for women in the male-dominated music industry of the 1940s and 1950s.

Carter is in step with that kind of trailblazing, but not limited to advancing her own career. Reaching out to bring music into the lives of others, particularly those in nursing homes and elder care living centers, is right along with bringing music into classrooms. 

When Carter says, “I really love music,” it’s not merely a statement of fact, it’s a revelation of what makes each day joyful. And in her I found a soul-mate in my dismay that music is not part of everyone’s daily way of life. The disconnect does not bode well for kindness and caring as the basis for personal interaction. Pioneering now is getting ears to hear, minds to listen, hearts to open, words to honor. Can music tame the wild-beast called ‘now in the u.s.a.’?

We heard Carter and Davis illuminate the lesser-known Ella, represented within: Higher Ground, When I Grow, Oudy, I’ll Never Be Free, Squatty Roo, Crying in the Chapel, Undecided—and riffs on the standards that warm our soul.

A fun local connection is of a different kind. Carter is a 2006 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship prize. Another Jazz Kitchen patron made sure I was aware of Indianapolis-author Nancy Kriplin’s biography, “The Eccentric Billionaire “ detailing the life and times of John D. MacArthur and how the award came about. I dutifully reported this to Ms Carter, who in turn assured me JK fouunder/owner David Allee already had alerted her to the book.

Carter and Davis continue this “Simply Ella” midwest tour into Missouri, Nov. 3-5. 

Regina Carter: “Ella: Accentuate the Positive,” was released April 21, 2017 on Okeh/Sony Masterwork Label. See:

Take time to read the excellent biographical sketch of Regina Carter by Mark Stryker, posted April 24, 2019 on:

Also go to a podcast In Her Own Words on:

and a Q-A interview at:

contributed free family friendly seniors accessible all ages sponsored
contributed family friendly for kids for teens seniors all ages date night sponsored

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