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Music Review: Jeff Healey – Last Call

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Lagniappe is the Cajun word for an extra or unexpected gift.  Discovering Jeff Healey and his music was just such a treat for me.  My introduction to this great talent happened after his death.  How had I missed him?

Before Hurricane Katrina moved us to the mountains of North Carolina, I listened to jazz every day on radio station WBRH in Baton Rouge.  It's one of the only radio stations in the country operated by high school students and it was my source for great classic jazz and also the discovery of new artists and artists with whom I had not been familiar.  Maybe I would have heard of Healey sooner?

My first encounter with him was the DVD, Beautiful Noise, which was a recording of a live performance with Healey and his band, The Jazz Wizards.  Now I'm a loyal fan and Last Call has a permanent home in my CD rotation.

Unlike the rock and blues hits ("Angel Eyes" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps") that put Healey in the spotlight or his work with The Jazz Wizards that was so much fun, Last Call showcases Healey's talent with popular songs from the thirties and early forties.  Healey had an extensive collection of records from that era (lots of 78's) and, according to Colin Bray's liner notes, this CD could have easily been titled, "The Real Jeff Healey;" it was the music he loved.

In addition to the very personal aspect of his choice of material, Healey made this recording with only two other musicians: Drew Jurecka on violin and Ross Wooldridge on piano and clarinet.  In a sense, this could be "Healey Unplugged" but it has a much richer quality, the depth that several more instruments can provide.  By overdubbing himself, Healey is able to sing the vocals, play lead on trumpet, rhythm guitar, and do guitar solos.  

One number, "Wildcat," which was also in the Beautiful Noise show (mislabeled as "War Cat"), features a duet with Healey on guitar and Jurecka on violin.  They also perform "Black and Blue Bottom" as a duet and both display strong gypsy jazz influence.  "Laura" is done with mostly just a piano supporting Healey as he channels Bing Crosby, an artist he greatly admired.  Several numbers, including "Keeping Myself For You," allow him to pay homage to another of his significant influences, Louis Armstrong.

At the time of these recordings, Healey had been diagnosed and we can only wonder if he knew how much time he had left.  On a few occasions we can hear his voice falter and the timing isn't always perfect, but this professional knew how far to push himself and what his capabilities were at the time. This CD wasn't released until after his death in March of 2008.  Healey produced it so perhaps we can deduce that he chose the songs and the sequence as well.  Was it chance, irony, or fate that led to the selection of "Some of These Days" as the last song on Last Call?  "Some of these days you're gonna miss me,Healey's Roadhouse 7-21-2007 honey. Some of these days you're gonna be so lonely.  You'll be so sorry when I'm away."  Whatever it was, it's a poignant farewell.

And the lagniappe Jeff Healey gives us is a bonus video on the same disc:  "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" with the Jazz Wizards recorded live at Healey's Roadhouse in Toronto, July 21, 2007.  Laissez les bons temps rouler.

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