What I learned from Ms. Annie Ross

Last week, I got to New York on a Tuesday and was finally able to experience Ms. Annie Ross performing at The Metropolitan Room in Manhattan. It was a night to remember.

I’ve been listening to Ms. Ross for months now on YouTube.  She is a great lyricist (she wrote the lyrics to “Twisted” in one afternoon) with spot-on timing.  She was part of the golden age of Jazz that makes me wish I were born sooner.  So having the chance to see her perform live was, in a word, thrilling.

I had read in advance that though life – and heroine – had taken their tolls on her 82 year-old voice, Ms. Ross’ performance was still a master class for jazz vocalists.  I wholeheartedly agree.

There were 12 people in the audience and four musicians on stage (Ms. Ross, accompanied by a piano, bass and drums trio).  She was assisted to a chair on the stage and remained seated throughout her performance.

Ms. Ross sang ten songs. She chose her songs carefully – clever lyrics, beautiful melodies, and the right mix of up-tempo numbers and ballads.  With a now-limited range, there were no vocal gymnastics. She didn’t need them.  She took no sips of water between songs.  There were no distractions on stage or in the audience – she wouldn’t allow them. The sound of drinks being placed on tables by the server caused her to pause until she had full attention before continuing.

She commanded that room. Her trio was in perfect synch with her, and Ms. Ross brought each lyric in each song to life. Her ego is clearly alive and well, but when she sang, she transcended ego. She didn’t sing memorized words. She told us stories, and we were spellbound.   Her stories made us feel, think, remember, dream, move, and snap our fingers.

When her performance was over, I was told that I could speak to her if I wished. She was seated at the entrance to the club with her pianist, and she greeted me warmly. I told her how much I had learned from her, and I’ll be honest, I got fahklempt.  She could not have been more gracious.

Many singers today hide behind a stage full of distractions. They keep their audiences engaged through costumes, choreography, pre-recorded tracks, and special effects. Annie Ross never needed those props. And today, with youth and vigor behind her, she relies on even less. Yet she connects with her audience in a way that most artists never will. Less is more. Sincerity is everything. Ms. Ross taught me an important lesson. Connecting with your audience requires just two things: Confidence and talent. She clearly has them both.