Jazz singer Andy Bey is often compared to the great Billy Eckstine, whose rich baritone and heartthrob good looks earned him the sobriquet "the black Sinatra" in the 1940s. Yet due to the reduced opportunities of racism and shifting musical tastes, both singers endured unjustly uneven careers. Eckstine panned for pop hits with diminishing success in the 1950s and '60s. Bey, after making two albums with his sisters as "Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters" in the mid-1960s, worked with drummer Max Roach and Horace Silver soon thereafter, but has never enjoyed the benefit of steady label support.
Bey resurfaced in the late 1990s on a half-dozen albums released by almost as many labels, including the stellar Ballads, Blues & Bey (Evidence, 1996), Tuesdays in Chinatown (Encoded, 2001), and American Song (Savoy Jazz, 2004). All showcase his lustrous voice, a languid yet always controlled vibrato, and a fresh, sexy approach to classic songs.
Like Eckstine in his heyday, Bey is the reigning master of Ellington tunes. On Ballads, Bey sings "I'm Just a Lucky So and So" and detours around the moon/June/spoon rhyme scheme by alternating a pining falsetto with his weary, resigned baritone. Bey adorns every song he sings with surprising touches; as the coda of "Midnight Sun" from American Song tapers off, Bey hits "sun" with the expected bassy E-flat; then, unexpectedly he drops an octave lower—not to a lover's crooning growl but into a steady tectonic rumble that ripples and radiates with a goose-bump-inducing gravitational pull. And though Bey is mainly a balladeer, up-tempo numbers like "Caravan" and "Invitation" feature his impeccable enunciation and suave phrasing. Don't miss him.
Andy Bey Quartet perform Tues June 20 and Wed June 21 at Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, 7:30 pm, $21.50.