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Jazz singer Andy Bey isn't afraid to connect with his audiences

Friday, November 30, 2001

By Nate Guidry Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Andy Bey, who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1994, says, "I think once I accepted it, it gave me a sense of freedom."

It's the love of the music that keeps vocalist Andy Bey going. It's what has sustained him during periods of musical uncertainty and a career nearly derailed after he was diagnosed as HIV-positive.

But Bey, who appears tonight at the Andy Warhol Museum, continues to push the music forward on his own terms.

"It takes time and patience if you want to succeed in this business," Bey says from his home in New York. "There has been a lot of pain and frustrations, but I decided a long time ago I would not compromise how I feel about my music."

The evening will focus on music from "Tuesday in Chinatown," his latest recording, which explores music as diverse as Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" to Rodgers and Hart's "Little Girl Blue."

"I'm really excited about this recording," he says. "These songs are about me connecting with my audience."

Connecting with his audience is something Bey knows, as singing ballads has always been at the center of his aesthetic.

"A lot of men don't want to sing ballads because it exposes you ... your vulnerability," he says. "It seems like male singers are not supposed to show that side a female singer can show. But as a singer you have to be willing to take it. For me it's like a cleanser."

Bey grew up Newark, N.J., the youngest of nine children. He started playing piano at 3 and by the time he was 9, he was performing on a local TV program, "Star Time Kids." Two years later, he recorded his first solo album, "Mama's Little Boy's Got the Blues."

"It was a great time to be a musician," he recalls. "I used to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Little Jimmy Scott, Billy Eckstine and Nat Cole. These people were doing some phenomenal things. People don't realize the impact that Nat Cole had on the music. He was one of the greatest musicians that ever lived."

At 18, Bey formed a group with his sisters, touring Europe. For several months the group performed at the Blue Note in Paris with bebop expatriates Bud Powell and Pittsburgh Kenny "Klook" Clarke.

"Those were some great times," he recalls. "We went beyond what a lot of groups were doing." There was a strong gospel and R&B influence.

After the group disbanded in the 1960s, Bey toured with saxophonist Eddie Harris and later performed and recorded with pianist Horace Silver.

"It was really nice working with Horace," said Bey who also performed with Max Roach, Duke Pearson and others. "I learned so much working with these musicians."

Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, he continued to work in relative obscurity. Sometimes it made him angry, but he was able to channel that energy into something positive.

In 1994, when he discovered he was HIV-positive, he dealt with the news head-on.

"I think learning to deal with reality can make you a stronger person," he says. "I think once I accepted it, it gave me a sense of freedom."

Bey says a daily regimen of exercise and good nutrition has allowed him to feel great. In 1996, he released "Ballads, Blues and Bey," which was followed by 1999's critically acclaimed "Shades of Bey."

"I have the power to do what I want and I decided I was going to channel that energy into something positive," he said. "There's a power behind all of this music. It's a power that's bigger than me and everyone that plays this music."

ANDY BEY

Where: Andy Warhol Museum.

When: Tonight at 8 and 10.

Admission: $10; 412-237-8300.

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