Album cover of Eyes Wide Open.Jamie Shew’s Eyes Wide Open holds something for every vocal jazz enthusiast. With two stellar compositions and eleven superb arrangements of her own, the listener has many delights from which to choose. Although Jamie (’98 music) has had all the skills, passion, intellect, and talent to make this album a reality for many years (hence the wealth of tracks), it was only after her husband lost his fight with cancer that she came to see herself as more of a professional performer—and one who could explore human emotions in the uplifting context of joy and healing.

Her fellow musicians on the album include some of Southern California’s finest. Guitarist Larry Koonse (a personal hero of Jamie’s late husband) has a long history of playing with such great singers as Cleo Laine, Mel Torme, Karrin Allyson, Luciana Souza, Natalie Cole, and Tierney Sutton. Koonse, pianist and Hammond B3 player Joe Bagg, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Jason Harnell expertly interpret Shew’s arrangements and compositions. And expertly, too, go the vocals.

On “Easy to Love” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Jamie’s 7/8 grooves flow so effortlessly that the lyrics are brought out in a very natural way. The straight-ahead swing tunes “The Flat Foot Floogie,” “Thou Swell,” “Reflections,” and Jamie’s composition “Get Out of My Head,” clearly demonstrate her virtuosic skills in a variety of tempos. Ballads “Detour Ahead,” “Easy Living,” and “First Song (For Ruth),” though vastly different, are united in Jamie’s easy delivery and the comfort they bring. My favorite interpretation by Jamie is the New Orleans street beat arrangement of “Mountain Greenery” with great interplay between guitar and piano.

Saving the best for last, though, Jamie’s composition “Eyes Wide Open” reminds one of a haunting Sondheim ballad that gives the listener an opportunity to examine loss within the confines of beauty and affirmation. All the song’s unexpected directions unite perfectly to create a cohesive, emotional journey, ending the album with, “I choose light. I choose love.”

I will choose to listen to Jamie Shew’s Eyes Wide Open again, and again.

Top photo: Album cover, Eyes Wide Open, by Jamie Shew ’98 Music

Originally posted by Kristina Ploeger for Washington State Magazine