"Hi, my name's Nellie!" Nellie McKay said in little-girl fashion as she bounded onto the stage. "What's yours?" The audience, many of whom were curious but skeptical, laughed. Over the course of her set, however, McKay showed she'd brought her jazz chops and won the audience over with a combination of good cheer, loopy humor and ferocious talent.
McKay began her set with a spare, almost acapella version of the standard "The Very Thought of You." McKay's voice has often been compared to Doris Day's, and while they are similar, McKay's voice is warmer and smokier than Day's. Throughout the set, the multi-talented McKay also showed off her instrumental skills as she switched back and forth between piano and ukelele.
The song that won the audience over was an exceptionally jazzy twist on Gershwin's "Do, Do, Do," originally from the musical "Oh, Kay!" and sung by Doris Day in "Tea for Two," the film version of the musical "No No Nanette." During the song, McKay allowed the members of her backing band (trumpeter Willie Murillo, saxophonist Mark Vishner, guitarist Cary Park, bassist Will Harvey and drummer Ben Bynum) to take the spotlight with a short and seemingly spontaneous jam.
Once McKay had the audience on her side, she began mixing up her set with songs ranging from reggae to Patsy Cline-style country to the Hatian merengue of her whimsical "Bodega." McKay even edged into potentially controversial satire with her acerbic "Mother of Pearl," which was greeted with loud whoops from the audience. But she returned again and again to a core of traditional jazz motifs, including a Dixieland-style tune (acclaimed by a roar from the crowd) and several more Doris Day covers such as "A Wonderful Guy." While many in the audience may have arrived as skeptics, they left as fans.
For more information on the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our Monterey Jazz Festival page. For coverage of the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, see all our Monterey Jazz Festival posts. For more photos from this and other performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival set on Flickr.