Singer slays in celebration of women in jazz

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BY ANGELA HATCHER: One More Productions presented it’s first-ever Summer Cabaret series at Garden Grove’s intimate Gem Theatre, and “Divalicious” An Evening with Debbi Ebert brought an elated crowd to its feet.

Ebert’s incomparable two-act “Celebration of Women in Jazz” featured rarely-performed songs from her latest CD in Act I, while Act II was a true and honest celebration of legendary jazz songstress Miss Nancy Wilson.

BY ANGELA HATCHER: One More Productions presented it’s first-ever Summer Cabaret series at Garden Grove’s intimate Gem Theatre, and “Divalicious” An Evening with Debbi Ebert brought an elated crowd to its feet.

Ebert’s incomparable two-act “Celebration of Women in Jazz” featured rarely-performed songs from her latest CD in Act I, while Act II was a true and honest celebration of legendary jazz songstress Miss Nancy Wilson.

Setting the stage for what was about to come, Ebert opened with “Can You Read My Mind,” and in her relaxed, sultry style, the audience felt the joy in Ebert’s heart from the first notes she sang. She then moved into the Latin number, “Rio De Janeiro Blue,” and its soft Bossa Nova beat had the audience swaying and grooving along with the pulsating rhythms.

Ebert’s vocal expressions were as silky and smooth as the azure Brazilian coastline. Her unique arrangement of the well-known song, “At Last,” simply with saxophone and upright bass accompaniment, featured Nic Gonzalez’s harmonic chordal progression on bass and was a perfect example of Ebert’s creativity and her imaginative approach to interpreting a song. Another illustration of her innovative musical ideas was evident in her wonderfully surprising “mash up” of the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s jazz standard, “Time After Time” along with Cyndy Lauper’s popular song of the same name.

With a nod to Debbi’s late friend and American soul cellist Fred Katz, Ebert sang “I Just Want to Get to Know You” as the spotlight shone on special guest artist Renda Pettis, who performed an expressive interpretive dance.

“What a Wonderful World” brought oohs and ahhs from the audience as Ebert talked about Louis Armstrong. She referred to him as Pops, and it was as though Satchmo himself was in the theater that night as Richard Ibara came out of the shadows with a voice that replicated the late great Armstrong as well as any simulation I’ve ever heard.

The beloved duet was a crowd favorite.

In abstract and literal ways, Miss Ebert’s song choices formed a narrative of love and life in contemporary times as well as times gone by.

Act II was the tribute to Nancy Wilson and her music, and Ebert’s love letter to female jazz artists was sincere, genuine, and about as authentic as it gets. From “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” to “A Lady With a Song,” Ebert captured the sound and the soul of the great Nancy Wilson that evening.  

Accompanying Miss Ebert were resident musicians The Gem All-stars, featuring Richard Abraham on Piano, Nic Gonzalez on bass, Jeff Segal on drums, and Richard Ihara on keyboards. With her striking three-octave vocal range, Miss Ebert showcased her amazing talents in a tasteful, classy, and sometimes sassy way, and more than a singer, she is a storyteller. With a commanding stage presence, Debbi Ebert puts the “D” in “Divalicious.”

Mood lighting was provided by lighting designer John Hyrkas. For more than three decades, Ebert has wowed audiences in Europe and local night spots such as Cedar Creek Inn, Neiuport 17, and Steamers Cafe.

She was a founding member of the Orange County Black Actors' Theatre and appeared in their touring productions of Ain’t Misbehavin', Eubie and Movin'On.

Ebert’s favorite stage/acting performances include Showboat, 1940's Radio Hour, Nunsense and Ain't Misbehavin' for Fullerton CLO. She gathered rave reviews for her theatrical portrayal of Billie Holiday in an Orange County Black Actors' Theatre production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at South Coast Repertory Theatre.