WHO: Andy Bey
WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday.
WHERE: The Calumet Arts Cafe, 56 W. Chippewa.
TICKETS: $40 for dinner and performance, $20 for performance only.
You can, if you like, make a list of the most profound jazz developments of the 1990s. There is no way to get to 10 -- or even close -- without ticking off the rediscovery of singer Andy Bey. It happened in 1996. The name of the disc that did it was "Ballads, Blues and Bey," an extraordinary piece of jazz minimalism in which Bey simply accompanied himself on piano singing blues and pop and jazz standards. It was profoundly moving music, with Bey riding up and down vocal registers with bewildering ease. He'd always done that, even three decades ago when he toured with his sisters in an act called Andy and the Bey Sisters.
But something had happened in the meantime. There was extraordinary depth and power to his music that hadn't seemed to have been there before. It was raw and stark and emotional in a narrative way that few male jazz singers (with the exception of the singular and unclassifiable Ray Charles) had ever been before. Billie Holiday -- especially late, wracked Billie -- was the best reference.
Part of it may have been some tough health news. Part of it may have been simple maturity and even blind luck (the right format at the right time). What jazz (as well as pop) audiences realized with shock and almost total unanimity was that one of the all-time great jazz singers had been born out of the fragments of an old career that had been virtually dormant for two decades.
His next disc "Shades of Bey" only confirmed and deepened the story. He is one of the great ongoing stories in all of jazz. Now that Betty Carter, Joe Williams and Mel Torme are gone, he is also, arguably, the greatest living jazz singer.
He will appear at the Calumet this weekend with just a piano -- the same format that brought him back from obscurity in the first place.
-- Jeff Simon