Lend her a jazz hand: Music great Marlena Shaw graces STL’s Jazz at the Bistro

St. Louis is legendary for great music and high crime. Next week, however, St. Louis is lucky enough to play host to a killer legend all her own.

Marlena Shaw, the famed jazz singer, will have a two set (8:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.) nightly run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 at Jazz at the Bistro (3536 Washington Ave., across from the Fabulous Fox Theatre).

The Valhalla, N.Y., native’s natural vocal talent was nurtured from a young age by family members and numerous gospel choirs.

At the ripe age of 10, Shaw performed to an enthusiastic audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theater with her trumpeter uncle. When asked to perform the next week as well, Shaw charismatically took to the stage solo in front of the notoriously tough Apollo crowd and never looked back.

After briefly attending the State Teachers’ College in Potsdam, N.Y., the sultry singer worked with a trio led by Howard McGhee in New England. She recorded the hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” in 1966, which led to a 1967 Cadet Records debut with the musically diverse album Out of Different Bags.

The following year, Count Basie invited her to perform with his orchestra upon hearing of her singing success at the New York Playboy club. Her four-year stint with the influential band led to her signing as the first female artist on Blue Note Records, paving the way for future Grammy-winner Norah Jones and a tour with the late Sammy Davis, Jr.

The influential bandleader Basie offered her this advice about setting a song’s tempo: “Well, Darlin’, now just remember: don’t put it above a heartbeat.”

Shaw’s heartbeat remains the core of her music. Influenced by Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, her dazzling live performances are witty, soothing and soulful. She is extroverted and at ease onstage. She is frequently compared to Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, yet her vocal style is also influenced by Al Hibbler of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Having explored jazz, soul, pop, R&B and disco in her sweeping past, Shaw now returns to her first true love: jazz.

Jazz at the Bistro, which was founded in 1995, is located at the hub of the Grand Center Arts District. It is also one of the most popular jazz clubs in the United States and hosts nationally recognized musicians, such as John Scofield, as well as rising stars. The intimate setting allows for a personal, one-of-a-kind dinner and concert event-the way jazz was meant to be experienced.

Student and group discounts are available, and tickets may be purchased online at www.metrotix.com, over the phone by calling 1-800-293-5949 or at the door the night of the show.

Shaw’s brief stint at the Bistro following her tour in Japan is sure to be captivating, relaxing, entertaining and what sweet jazz dreams are made of.