Jon Hendricks at One World Theatre
One World Theatre, October 14
In a world-class venue like the One World Theatre, which makes Bee Caves feel like the Mediterranean, a one-third-full house is a bad omen, especially since it only holds 300 people to begin with. Since nearly every seat has a view like the TV from your living-room couch, the sparsely spread-out audience only made the turnout look more anemic. Founder/ executive director Hartt Sterns' introduction of an unannounced opening act, after the now-routine "How many of you have been here before?" show of hands, did little to stir excitement. Yielding to his partner in all things nonprofit and art-related, Sterns gave way to the Rapunzel-like Iluminada, whose strong, clear voice was betrayed by overwrought stage histrionics. Holding her captive audience for one tune only, Iluminada then introduced a piano/bass/drums trio whose milquetoast look hardly presaged better things to come. In fact, things only got worse. The combo's instrumental warm-up did little to dispel any suspicions that they were actually an unemployed rockabilly outfit, so stiff and grimacing were their chops. They swung like a revolving door. Main attraction Jon Hendricks, whose ability to compose "vocalese" to formerly wordless jazz standards has afforded him legend status, took a close second. The 71-year-old singer, army veteran, jazz critic, and educator kept a brave face while surveying the mostly empty theater, lending that much more sad poignancy to his ragged rendition of "Every Day I Have the Blues." As onetime leader of seminal jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, the pink-jacketed performer has neither a deep enough voice to make the blues gritty nor, at his advanced age, a croon buttery enough to rival Texas great Charles Brown. Think Ray Charles thrice removed. The adoring audience obviously owned a few LHR albums, not seeming to mind that "See See Rider" took on the feeling of an off-off-Broadway facsimile of what the blues should be. Renowned for his scatting ability, Hendricks has lost a few steps, sounding more like he has a bad stutter in places, while his between-song patter came off like supper-club schtick. Bringing out daughter Aria for a recasting of Horace Silver's "Doodlin'," then a medley of LHR hits, their voices melded like Israel and Palestine; Aria's solo turn on "Summertime" may have been the best reading of the night. It was for those who fled just prior to the audience sing-along that followed. For us, 100 or so Jon Hendrickses was 99 too many.