From The American Rag and The LA Jazz Scene publications, October 2001. By: Harvey Barkan An Elegant Lady In Red When vocalist Claudette Stone sings a ballad, the presentation and emotion seem so real and strong that the images remain long after the song ends. She has the remarkable ability to draw an audience into her song with a message that is individual and compelling. During a love ballad you know she means only you, and you're glad. Whatever the lyrics, the subtlety and sincerity of her style bring them to life, sets a mood, and includes the listener in the story. Singing in the Coconut Grove room during a Saturday venue at the L.A. Sweet and Hot Music Festival, she made that cavernous room seem smaller and intimate. Her appearance was striking. Decked out in all red from her ever-present hat down to her red jewelry, dress, and shoes, this elegant vocalist simply knocked the audience out, even before she sang. The most frequently used adjective at the festival to describe Claudette, by both musicians and fans, was 'classy.' Singing with husband Dick Johnson's Mardi Gras Band, there were lighter moments as well. They poked fun at themselves in duets of their originals 'Senior Blues,' humorously lamenting the foibles of growing older, and 'Drivers,' a married couple's funny complaints about each other's abilities behind the wheel. The Mardi Gras Band consisted of leader Johnson, on trumpet and flugelhorn; Ed Schmalz, reeds; Brad Hammett, trombone; Tom Shove, piano; Charlie Robinson, guitar; Mickey Bennett, bass, and Ron Jones, drums. Claudette also occasionally accompanied herself on piano. Johnson put the Sacramento based band together in 1984 in an attempt to widen the appeal of jazz. He wanted to open the borders, so to speak, by including just a bit of swing, blues, and other music to entice new fans in to hear and learn to enjoy jazz. The band plays from arrangements that show their musicianship on instrumentals and enhance their prized vocalist. The wide scope of tunes included Claudette's vocals on 'The Nearness of You,' 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find,' an upbeat 'Bill Bailey,' and starting straight on 'Why Don't You Do Right?' but ending it as a novelty number, with husband Johnson joining in with modified and personalized lyrics, to the amusement of fans familiar with the pair and their lives. Claudette Stone, always great, excels with intimate accompaniment of just a few musicians. Her magnificent voice and delicate presentation are what I want to hear, unclouded by too much support or distraction. A case in point was 'Guess Who I Saw Today,' with only guitar and bass backing the vocal. This moving song, a heart wrenching tale of a loving wife accidentally discovering her husband's indiscretion, comes to a startling climax with the last three words, surprising a very quiet, attentive audience. Eyes and cheeks in the audience were still drying from this emotional song when Claudette sang the song associated with her that much of the audience came to hear, 'When October Goes.' It was sung magnificently, with very effective flugelhorn accent by Johnson. The beauty of the presentation, music and lyrical content of this jewel by Johnny Mercer and Barry Manilow, left the audience without any remaining dry Kleenex. I didn't want this set to end. Harvey Barkan.