Jill Hughes stood onstage, soaking up the spotlight and the waves of applause from the packed house at the venerable Van Dyck in Schenectady.
It was a long time coming, but on Saturday night the veteran soul-jazz-blues singer was celebrating the release of her debut solo album – aptly titled “For the First Time” – and she wanted to savor every moment of it.
Pointing to the upstairs dressing room, she admitted to the crowd, “That walk down those stairs was the longest walk I’ve ever taken – especially in these heels.” The crowd roared back its appreciation.
Of course, the vivacious vocalist didn’t really have anything to worry about. She’s a captivating entertainer, who knows instinctively how to charm a crowd.
And she’s a confident, supremely soulful singer, who tackles every song with grace and style. There ain’t nothing “pitchy” about a Jill Hughes performance.
There’s no showing off, either, although Hughes could certainly dazzle with her vocal acrobatics if she wanted to. But she doesn’t need to. Instead, she simply pours her heart into the songs, bringing passion and power to each one.
Her repertoire for the evening – all culled from the new album – was vast and eclectic, leaping across a wide range of musical genres. Whether she was serving up a towering love ballad (“l Won’t Pretend”), a funky get-down (Sam & Dave’s R&B classic “I Thank You”), a tender jazz standard (“The Very Thought of You”) or a stone-cold blues (Willie Dixon’s no-punches-pulled scorcher “I Just Want to Make Love to You”), Hughes made nary a misstep.
Of course, she didn’t do it all by herself. She had a crack quintet behind her – led by keyboardist-producer Jon Werking and versatile saxman Cliff Lyons – to help her expertly navigate the tricky genre-jumps from the skittering scat of “Love Isn’t Likely Today” to the simmering bossa nova of “Better Off.”
On Saturday, with her long-overdue solo CD finally under belt, the night belonged to Jill Hughes. It’s about time.