Eva Cassidy Live At Blues Alley: 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago, on 2 and 3 January 1996, the Eva Cassidy band performed two nights at Blues Alley, a jazz club in Georgetown DC. The album Nightbird (2015) contains the complete concert that the Eva Cassidy Band gave on the second evening. The musicians had played there before with Chuck Brown, which had been a financial success, so Blues Alley went ahead and booked the Eva Cassidy Band as well. Two consecutive nights provided a perfect opportunity to record an album that would definitely put Eva Cassidy on the map. Whoever had heard her singing was hugely impressed, but Cassidy didn’t have a record contract in those days. Her repertoire was much too varied to label her musically. Cassidy’s fellow musicians still believed in her talent, though, and decided to a last desperate effort: to release a live-album on their own. The singer paid the live recording truck and the crew.

Eva in Georgetown

Eva in Georgetown

Luck wasn’t on their side: immediately after the first night’s performances the group listened to the tapes eagerly. They soon realised that the sound was badly affected by the light dimmers of the jazz club. So the entire recording had been in vain. This was a huge disappointment, not only because they had played very well that evening, but because the pressure for the second night was ratcheted up several notches. Eva had a sleepless night and worse: she developed a cold. When Eva and the other musicians listened to the recordings of the second night to decide the running order of the album said the perfectionistic singer: “I don’t like this and I don’t want to release this album.” They talked for hours and promised her to add some studio recordings to the live concert performances, which would lead to the acceptable and coherent album: Live at Blues Alley. Cassidy reluctantly agreed. That same year Eva Cassidy died of melanoma, largely unknown.

Eva Cassidy Band

Eva Cassidy Band

In fact Blix Street Records ignored Cassidy’s wishes by releasing Nightbird in 2015. The technique of optimizing recordings had been improved significantly. But anyone who listens to these thirty-one tracks on this double-album must conclude that music history was written on 3 January 1996. No weak spots can be discovered on this album! People all over the world have to adjust the idea that they probably had about Eva Cassidy. This music differs hugely from well-known songs that babble on like ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘Songbird’. The Eva Cassidy Band plays two delicious sets of solid and sparkling songs: a rocking rendition of ‘Take Me To The River’, a soulful ‘Chain Of Fools’ and a steamy ‘Route 66’. Even as a jazz band the Eva Cassidy Band does an excellent job performing fine versions of ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Caravan’. But those who love quiet ballads have plenty to enjoy on Nightbird as well: it is a real surprise for instance to hear a stripped off rendition of ‘Waly Waly’. On Eva By Heart the song was decorated with outdated synthesiser-effects, but on Nightbird Lenny Williams accompanies ‘Waly Waly’ in a beautifully restrained way.

Chris Biondo and Eva Cassidy

Chris Biondo and Eva Cassidy

Since the compilation-album Songbird appeared in 2001 people have been aware of the fact that Eva Cassidy was an extremely talented singer. Nightbird proved that her fellow musicians were also able to perform a complete night at a high level in different genres. It is remarkable that the record company doesn’t say much in their liner notes about Chris Biondo (bassist, producer and friend), Keith Grimes (guitar), Lenny Williams (piano) and Raice McLeod. Anyone who’s into the music of The Eva Cassidy band should listen to and watch the impressive live concert on Nightbird.

4 responses to “Eva Cassidy Live At Blues Alley: 25 years ago”

  1. Hal Van Slyck says:

    I’ve loved Eva and her band since the day her Songbird album was featured on our smooth jazz station KJLU in Jefferson City, MO. An IMMENSE talent. Most every song she’s recorded is familiar to me, but every one she turns inside out and creates a better version then anyone could ever imagine. Thanks to all who persevered to bring Eva’s music to the light. God rest her beautiful soul and may she soar with the songbirds forever.

  2. Alan Riley says:

    Thank you Chris, Keith, Lenny, Raice and everyone else involved in this treasured album. Eva was the best, most natural singer I have ever heard.

  3. GALDON3741 says:

    Thank you!!1

  4. Jeff Somers says:

    Very much enjoy listening to and watching Eva Cassidy videos – her story is sad but her contributions are so much appreciated !

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