The mood was positively giddy Thursday night at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley as the crowd, starved for live music by the pandemic for 15 months, anticipated diva Lisa Fischer’s dramatic ascent to the stage.
Fischer sang backup vocals for years behind everyone from Roberta Flack to the Rolling Stones, but became world famous in her own right after the 2013 Oscar and Grammy-winning film “20 Steps From Stardom.”
“The energy is just amazing,” said one of the club managers, Ari Dimitriou, whose father, John, owns the club. “I’m so excited. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have your life back.”
Fans apparently felt the same way. Before Fischer even sang a note, half of them were on their feet, applauding and cheering.
“Yes, Lord,” said Fischer with a quiet sigh that rippled through the room like one long, collective release. “It is such an honor to be in a room with humans.”
And how refreshing to see the faces of those humans, too, though most of the 200 or so music-lovers there — about half a house, per COVID regulations — wore masks as they strolled between tables, as did the always-focused, fast-moving servers.
Dimitriou’s is not the first Seattle venue that features jazz to reopen — the Owl N’ Thistle Irish Pub Tuesday night jam sessions started back up several weeks ago and The Triple Door turns on the lights June 18 — but as the city’s major, go-to jazz club, Jazz Alley’s revival is big news.
Some changes in the room were noticeable. Plexiglass shields have sprouted between booths, the high tables by the bar are a bit farther apart and a new ventilation system made the air feel unusually robust and fresh. But the velvet red curtain draped behind the stage was still the same, and Fischer — wearing a long silver skirt, black tunic and print scarf — fell right in with its plush, warm vibe.
For nearly two hours, she sang a set that felt tailor made to satisfy the pent-up cravings for connection so many have felt this past year-and-a-half.
From the blissful adoration of “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” to the raw pain of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” from the sexy declaration of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” to the solitary longing of Karen Carpenter’s “Superstar,” from the smug sassiness of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” to the fearful harbinger of the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter,” Fischer struck chord after chord in the crowd, drawing them together in musical communion.
As Fischer, who plays at Jazz Alley through Sunday, sang “Killing Me Softly,” one couple joined hands across their table. During “Fever,” she literally brought the crowd together, pulling an unsuspecting, first-time Jazz Alley patron from Atlanta, Miles Warren, to the edge of the stage and embracing him from behind as she sang.
“I’ve been waiting since 2016 to catch Lisa Fischer,” said Warren with a huge smile, after the show.
Little did he know it was he who would be caught.
Jazz Alley regulars Bob and Delphine Gilbertson, who live just a block away, also expressed delight at being back in their favorite musical haunt.
“Live music is just different from anything else,” partly, Bob said, because of the reaction of the crowd. As if to illustrate his point, top-notch pianist Taylor Eigsti, Fischer’s sole accompanist, catapulted the crowd to its feet as he dug into a rollicking, blues-drenched solo on the Harold Arlen classic, “Blues in the Night.”
According to staff, the crowd had a little help with its enthusiasm.
“People were having up to five martinis each,” said astonished house manager Bernie Spring.
No, the pandemic hasn’t quite yet ended. But as faithful Jazz Alley fan Charles Egerton IX put it succinctly as he mounted the stairs to leave the club: “We’ve survived.”