At the Portland Jazz Festival, Freda Payne reached into her jazz, pop and soul background for the ingredients of an eclectic evening. Her performance summarized a career that began in the 1950s when she was a Detroit teenager. Payne appeared at Jimmy Mak’s, a club near downtown that serves as an official festival venue. Playing to an audience overflowing with standing listeners, she worked with a quintet led by the veteran Portland drummer Mel Brown. Payne opened her late set with Cole Porter’s classic standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (1943) moved to Kenny Rankin’s 1991 “Haven’t We Met?” then Hampton and Burke’s “Midnight Sun” (1947). Her intonation tended toward flatness early in the proceeding, but settled as the concert progressed.
Buoyed by the Brown rhythm section’s drive, Payne intensified the feeling as she moved on to Merle Haggard’s “Whatever Happened to Me?” and Styne and Cahn’s “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry”. Bassist Ed Bennett and pianist Clay Giberson were Brown’s rhythm accomplices. Tenor saxophonist Rob Davis and trumpeter Derek Sims rounded out the band. Davis’s solo on “Midnight Sun” was a high point.
A welcome touch: Payne made it a point to credit the composers and lyricists of all the songs she sang, a nicety that Frank Sinatra also practiced in his concerts. She skillfully managed the rhythmic subtleties required to be convincing in the Ivan Lins Latin standard “The Island.” Possibly encouraged by the fellow SRO standee who yelled “Woo-woo” in my ear following every song, she called on her immersion in soul and blues in a closing tryptich of “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” “Save Your Love For Me” and “St. Louis Blues.” Payne’s passion and authenticity in the idiom have earned her the respect of several generations of jazz musicians. One of them is bassist Christian McBride, who invited her to sing two songs in his band’s concert two nights later. In Payne’s gig at Jimmy Mak’s, Sims’s flugelhorn solo on the blues all but brought down the house. It was sowell, so bluesythat I was tempted to join in with the “Woo-woo” guy.