On March 2nd, 2008, the guitar world said goodbye to one of its greats, Canadian born guitarist Jeff Healey. Known mostly for his virtuosic blues picking and pop-oriented vocals, such as the 1989 Top 10 hit “Angel Eyes” from his best-selling album See the Light, in his later years Healey turned to hot jazz and swing music as the preferred genre for his musical endeavors. Already known as a virtuoso on the guitar, and an accomplished vocalist, many fans were happily surprised to learn that Healey was also an accomplished trumpeter, an instrument that is featured prominently in the years preceding his passing. While we he may have left this world with a plethora of musical output left in him, fans can relish in the fact that new albums and DVD’s of previously unreleased material are being released.
Last Call is a posthumous release that fans of Healey, and of swing jazz, will no doubt enjoy. Featuring Healey on vocals, guitar and trumpet, alongside Drew Jurecka, violin and Ross Wooldridge on piano and clarinet, the fourteen tracks find Healey at his absolute best. Right from the opening chords of “Holding My Honey’s Hand,” Healey’s love for jazz becomes explicitly apparent. While other “crossover” musicians have delved into the world of jazz for various reasons, mostly trying to reinvent their careers, there is no second guessing Healey’s motives on this record. Each lick, phrase and vocal melody sounds as if they come from the heart.
From a musical standpoint Healey is right at home as he twists and turns through the harmony and melody of each tune. Tracks such as “Time on My Hands” and “Pennies From Heaven” draw listeners out of their living rooms and into the world of Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt and Les Paul. The authenticity and historically accurate interpretations that Healey brings to these songs, and the rest of the album, is quite astonishing, especially for someone who made their name as a rock-blues musician. His note choices, phrasing, articulation and dynamic choices come across as knowledge that was gained with years of focused study. This is not an album of modern arrangements of classic tunes, it is an homage to the swing era by an artist that holds that music, and its artists, in the highest regard.
Last Call is an exceptional release by an exceptional artist. Filled with great playing, entertaining vocals and hard swinging interactions between the artists, the only downside to the album is that this may be one of the last albums of new swing jazz material we will be able to enjoy from the late artist. If you’re a fan of Django Reinhardt, John Pizzarelli, Eddie Lang, George Van Eps or any of the other great hot-jazz artists, check out Last Call, you won’t be disappointed.