|Emma Lee Aboukasm|
Emma Lee Aboukasm is a promising and daring jazz vocalist making a name for herself on Detroit’s jazz scene at the tender age of twenty-three, performing regularly at some of the top jazz venues. Four years back, she was a finalist in the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Jazz Competition. A year before that she won Detroit's Youth Vocal Jazz Competition. Her debut recording “Rise to It” was a mission statement from a gifted artist. Recently, she received a Detroit Music Award nomination. Wednesday night at Willis Show Bar, in Mid-Town Detroit, she paid tribute to vocalist Sarah Vaughn, singing some standards Vaughn immortalized such as “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Tenderly,” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.” An ambitious undertaking given Aboukasm is still in the developmental stage of her career. She has an angelic and intoxicating voice, a veteran level stage presence, and she's comfortable singing standards. However, her concert felt more like a toast than a tribute. She didn’t talk about Vaughan’s accomplishments or if Vaughan was a key influence on her. During a tribute it's perfectly okay to give the audience a history lesson, and even say why the tribute is necessary. Attendees unfamiliar with Vaughan’s legacy left the first set not having learned anything about it. Another issue was Aboukasm scatting during every song. She’s not bad at it. But there was no need for her to do so much of it because she sings so angelically. She’s still in the formative leg of her career, and self-editing is something she’ll learn and appreciate in due time. A terrific rhythm section backed her pianist Jordan Anderson, bassist Aiden Cafferty, and drummer David Ward. She believes in sharing the spotlight, so she gave each member ample space to flex. A tribute to a legend such as Sarah Vaughan is an endeavor jazz vocalists such as Sheila Landis, Ursula Walker, and Joan Belgrave, who’ve been in the game for decades, would undertake. Aboukasm, however, deserves applauds for daring to tackle some of the music Vaughan put her stamp on.