Combine two parts jazz music with one part history and a dash of visual stimulation. Toss it together and you have a Bay Area vocalist’s multimedia performance, paying tribute to female singers and songwriters of the Tin Pan Alley era.
Pamela Rose’s boisterous voice serves as the backbone of her unconventional concert, “Wild Women of Song.” Between Rose’s renditions of Doris Fisher’s “That Old Devil Called Love” and Dorothy Fields’ “A Fine Romance,” photos of female songwriters are projected onto a screen, followed by a history lesson on snippets of their lives.
“We don’t want this to be a jazz church—we want it to be a pretty earthly, fun show,” Rose said during a phone interview. She started performing the concerts a year ago with her five-person band. “We want to treat the audience to a unique experience. Live music is so important, especially in these days when you can stream it all at home and you don’t have to go out any more.”
Rose is performing Tuesday night at Yoshi’s Oakland, just one stop on her list of California appearances. The show is based on Rose’s latest album, which was released last month: Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era. It’s Rose’s fifth album and serves as a testament to her love for jazz. “Songs that most resonate with me have a pretty strong blues element to them.”
Rose, a Los Angeles native, has been a performer for about 30 years. Her early career included singing back up, coining jingles, and performing in wedding and party bands.
It was nearly six years ago, while performing in Germany, that Rose recognized eight songs in a row in her set were credited to women. It was that simple and sudden realization that spurred Rose’s current love of sharing with music lovers the importance women played in the history of music. At first, she said, she started a website dedicated to sharing music and photos of the women.
“I had so many jaw-dropping moments,” Rose said. “It was just astonishing, some of these stories that these women had.” She said her research gave her a fuller appreciation of the hardships the women had to overcome, including the Depression and a male-dominated industry, for a less-than-glamorous profession. Her sources of historical information, she said, have included university libraries and the Gershwin Society.
After continued research, she felt the website didn’t do justice to the “prolific hardworking women.” So began the journey of “Wild Women of Song.”
Rose said the show’s structure is comparable to a theatrical performance. The projected images of archived photos are timed to the beat of the music, and storytelling is interspersed throughout the near two-hour long show. A unique perspective Rose includes are the ambient photos of the songwriters—many not available for public viewing elsewhere—provided by living relatives of the featured women.
Ruth Davies, the band’s bass player, said the historical aspect of the show has made her “pay a lot more attention to who wrote all this music I have been playing for so many years.” Davies has been a professional musician for more than 30 years, and that only after joining the show did she realize how much of her music was the product of such “great and talented characters.”
Rose said the shows have become more progressive by including feedback from audience reactions. She pays attention to how people react to various parts of the show, Rose said—if they love something, she adds more of that. If they seem distracted, she makes adjustments. Her overall goal is to provide a fluid motion show that serves as entertainment and a lesson on the forgotten art the women produced.
Not only is the format of the show theatrical, but also the reactions—with emotional ups and downs, Rose said, for both the audience and performers. It’s not unusual for her and some band members, like pianist and music director Tammy Hall, to get “choked up” when performing “Just for a Thrill” by Lil Hardin Armstrong, the wife of jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong. “These were working-class women who contributed to these beautiful songs,” said Rose.
Hall said the element of surprise plays a factor for the audience as well. “When they find out it was a woman who penned what could have possibly been their favorite song,” she said, “they just never thought about it. It’s just always assumed that a man wrote the song.”
Men were always presumed to be on the forefront of progressive music, thought of as “these guys with big cigars in all the publishing houses,” said Rose.
Despite jazz’s lessened presence in the current music scene, Rose thinks music is an ever-evolving process, which means rap, hip-hop, and pop—what notably makes up mainstream music today—found inspiration through jazz. “That’s the natural order of things,” said Rose. “I think at the bottom of it all, I love telling the stories of these women.”
Tickets are $16 and can be purchased through Yoshi’s Oakland’s website. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8:00 p.m.