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On a Thanksgiving night in San Francisco maybe 10 years ago, I left a friend’s house after dinner and fell into a small jazz club called Milestones. I paid the cut-rate cover charge (half-price to draw out some semblance of a crowd), sat by myself at a little table to the side of the stage, and was slowly but surely swept away by singer Etta Jones. Elegant and earthy, enjoying a nearly telepathic rapport with tenor saxophone player Houston Person, Jones seemed to be the perfect jazz singer. I got deep into it, swinging my head from side to side, eyes closed, no doubt looking like a fool. I didn’t care, it was just me and the music, and that is the best way to hit the clubs. After the set, Jones stepped off the low stage and, completely unprompted, glided over to my table. “I saw you over here,” she smiled. “You were really doin’ it.” Of course, she was the one who was really doin’ it, along with Person and the guys in the rhythm section. But it endeared her to me and serves still as an example of the glories of the club scene — drop in, grab a drink, and catch people who burn just for the love of it, even in a quarter-filled room 3,000 miles from their home on a sad Thanksgiving. Later that night, she briefly broke into a startling Billie Holiday imitation. Taking the final verse from “Fine and Mellow,” she croaked out a phrase so close to Lady Day’s heartbreaking style that it was eerie: “Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on …” A version of that trick appears on Jones’ new CD, “Etta Jones Sings Lady Day” (HighNote). But sadly, Jones is gone. She died last month at age 72, on the very day that her new CD hit the bins. She lived in Washington as well as in New York, and her passing prompted tributes (as well as a few miscues — her sound is no more like Etta James’ than a velvet glove is like a boxing glove) from the thankfully nonsmooth jazz deejays on WPFW. Jones’ biggest number in her five decades in the business remains “Don’t Go to Strangers,” which she recorded for Prestige Records in 1960. She made about two dozen records and covered more miles than most train conductors in a career that included many encounters with other top flight jazz performers. The disc that she delivered, still shrink-wrapped, to St. Peter on Oct. 16 was very much up to her usual standards. In her life, Jones met Holiday only in passing. Similarly, other than that brief moment in “Fine and Mellow,” Jones stays firmly within her own style throughout “Etta Jones Sings Lady Day.” Comfortable and sometimes so far behind the beat that you fear she may never catch up, Jones gracefully handles “God Bless the Child,” “I Cried for You,” and several more. She also lets out her signature cry, a fluttering sort of yodel that effectively conveys longing or surprise as needed. Person is here, producing the date and blowing some warmth on the coals on “All of Me” and “You’ve Changed.” Pianist Richard Wyands, who was in on “Strangers” more than 40 years ago, and guitarist Peter Bernstein manage the dual feats of swinging and staying out of Jones’ way. All in all a very nice curtain call. We’re still listening down here, Etta.

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