Jackie Cain & Roy Kral | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jackie Cain & Roy Kral 

Jackie Cain & Roy Kral

To those hearing bebop for the first time, the 1950s recordings of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral opened an inviting door to a hep new scene; to those already on that scene, they must have seemed a pale shadow of concurrent work by King Pleasure, Annie Ross, and the young Carmen McRae. Of course, the truth lay somewhere in between. While the couple mainly popularized the innovations swirling around the postwar years, this "most perfect vocal duo in jazz history" (per German jazz historian Joachim Berendt) also added a panache of its own, in performances that sailed along on impeccable ensemble singing and the admirably clear presentation of smart lyrics and bright melodies. Jackie & Roy's greatest strengths, though, are subtle enough to broach invisibility. One is the happy marriage of their vocal timbres: Jackie's honeyed pastels seem best suited to Broadway ballads, but in trademark unison with Roy's smooth baritone, her voice gets a little dirty and develops an unexpected punch. Another trademark is the imperturbable swing they can generate on virtually any piece of music--a relationship to the beat that comes from jazz, but which alone doesn't really qualify them as jazz singers. In fact, though they include many bona fide jazz tunes in their repertoire, and they easily command the swing and bebop idioms, they don't scat, and not even their line readings feature much in the way of improvisation. The light breeze of Jackie & Roy's music can prove surprisingly fragile: if you go expecting to see jazz dinosaurs, they'll turn into just that. But those who can still get hep will appreciate their casual craftsmanship and precisely counterbalanced duets. The two actually met in Chicago in 1947; this year marks the 50th anniversary of their partnership, the 48th anniversary of their wedding, and I believe the 10th anniversary of their last club date in town. They'll perform in a quartet with bassist John Whitfield and drummer Charles Braugham. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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