Arts & Events

Anna Recording Live at Anna’s

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - 07:01:00 PM

For a soulful Valentine’s Day, it’s time for soulful love songs!” reads the calendar listing on the website for the Saturday show at Anna’s Jazz Island. The show, titled “Love in the Lost and Found,” will feature proprietor Anna de Leon recording live songs from the “Soulful American Songbook.” 

“It’s those songs of love never included in the Great American Songbook,” de Leon explained. “Most of that came from Broadway. And not just jazz standards, but more a blues or gospel sound—some Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, but Joe Tex and Sam Cooke, too; Little Junior Parker and Johnny Taylor; a couple Ray Charles tunes, an Ivory Joe Hunter ... Of course, ‘You Send Me’ and ‘Bring It on Home to Me’—and Al Hibbler’s ‘After the Lights Go Down Low,’ a big hit, but nobody does it anymore. Oh, and a Randy Travis tune, ‘Forever and Ever, Amen.’ But I won’t do it so country.” 

She laughed, recollecting another tune. “‘My Funny Valentine’! I think I’ll have to do that. It was the first song I sang in public, in a bar, though, and I’ll enjoy remembering that.” 

Many know Anna de Leon from her 20 years as a civil rights attorney; others from her stints on the Berkeley School Board. Or as a club owner. Not as many think of her as a singer, a role that’s often taken a backseat to her other tasks. But she was “chick singer” for the Delancey Street Band and was part of a gospel trio.  

Her first CD, released four years ago, The Sweet Bittersweet, featured jazz notable Kenny Barron on piano, Taj Mahal singing on two tracks and a rhythm section that included Peter Barshay on bass and drummer Harold Jones, formerly with Count Basie and once Ella Fitzgerald’s music director. 

The album was produced by jazz radio personality Bud Spangler, and in his liner notes, Nat Hentoff—dean of jazz writers—wrote, “Long ago I would hear musicians asking about some players they hadn’t heard yet: ‘Can they tell a story?’ ... Anna de Leon is one of the more beguiling—and moving—storytellers I’ve heard in a good many years.” 

In any case, she’s never stopped singing, something she’s done all her life. The songs for this show and recording came to her in the most offhanded way, “songs I noticed I was singing when I walked the dog. I never sang them in public—although my neighbors must think I’m crazy, going over and over the same tune, walking on the street!—but I’ve certainly sung them a lot. I noticed they’re all of an era; mostly ’50s, I’d say. They all have a groove, a sweetness—perfect Valentine’s Day songs, though unlikely in a way. Originally there was more jazz. I love all those unusual intervals, but realized it didn’t fit together. I will do a few. ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ fits in.” 

Her band on this outing is a good one, too: “Dee Spencer on piano, who founded the jazz studies program at S.F. State and has worked with [jazz and R&B vocalist] Jimmy Scott; Ruth Davies on bass, who was with [blues singer] Charles Brown; Dave Rokeach, who toured with Ray Charles, on drums ... I think we’ll have to overdub [saxophonist] Jules Broussard, who has a date with Lavay Smith, and Steve Gannon on guitar. And Bruce Koball, from the Hillside Club, will do the sound.” 

“The Soulful American Songbook.” As Hentoff noted on de Leon’s first CD, “[I]t’s the soul thrust of blues and gospel that fuels the spirit in her voice; and the blues and gospel, after all, are at the core of the jazz that endures.” 


8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14 at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Reservations: 841-5299 after 5:30 p.m.