One night, in my high school years, Charlie Rose, in his CBS years, brought a lunatic, gorgeous jazz harpist on his show. My young, tyro-jazzer heart was smitten, and after calling her in Boston to confess my admiration, I ran out and bought Deborah Henson-Conant's album On the Rise. Lilting, melodious fusion supported by top-shelf players like bassist Mark Egan promised big things for the future.
In the spirit of adolescence, however, my attentions wandered, and though I have occasionally caught wind of her career since, it wasn't until hearing about her upcoming appearance with the San Antonio Symphony (heaven help its underfunded soul) that I tuned in again.
Henson-Conant has certainly evolved, if in some odd, resolutely independent ways. The tunes are more poppy, many with sweet, prosaic lyrics sung by the harpist, and with long cornrows, leather pants, and a custom-made "body harp," she has become a self-actualized jazzy Amazon. There are many moments on her recent albums when I just want to hear her blaze - a distorted, solo "Beck's Blues" (for Jeff Beck) is a gem. But I have a feeling that her personal, "you can do it!" songs have a strong appeal for many, and judging by the response on her live album Just for You, audiences dig jokey stuff like "Watermelon Boogie" and "The Dogs of Somerville" (my ardor again inspired by the latter's multilingual impressions of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich).
The symphony shows should be a lot of fun. I hope the harpist gets to show off a bit. It will probably be great for kids, too - and adolescent jazzbos beware!

More by Jonathan Marcus



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