Ruth Rogers-Wright, a singer from Brixton who lives in Melbourne, performed her tribute to Nina Simone at the Stonnington Jazz Festival. Backed by a four-piece group, Rogers-Wright’s act was not so much cover band as séance, channelling the spirit of Simone through song and spoken word.
Opening with Be My Husband, the singer set the mood with a soulful rendition accompanied only by drummer Hugh Harvey. He Needs Me showcased Rogers-Wright’s eerie voice as the rest of the band eased into the show.
Crowd-pleaser My Baby Just Cares for Me featured a lovely bass solo from Philip Rex and ivory tinkling from Monique di Mattina, but the real highlight was Paul Williamson on tenor sax, squawking and growling all the way through.
Rogers-Wright opened the second set with a passionate spoken-word tribute to the “fabulous diva” littered with anecdotes of Rogers-Wright’s close encounters of the Nina kind. The audience was transfixed until the singer lightened the mood with a few gags at Simone’s expense.
I Put a Spell on You brought down the house, and Sunday in Savannah was nicely stripped back to let the song itself shine through.
See-Line Woman got the whole crowd involved and Rogers-Wright worked the audience, dancing her way to the back of the venue shouting and whooping all the way. Her powerful voice carried to the front of the theatre even without the aid of a microphone. She closed the set with the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun to rapturous applause.
A fantastic show from start to finish, keep your eyes peeled for the next performance. I will be going again and taking a crowd with me.