Review: Angela Bofill returns to stage

By Jim Harrington
Oakland Tribune

Dave Valentin summed up what many fans were feeling when he described hearing Angela Bofill for the first time.

“The minute I heard her voice,” the acclaimed jazz flautist told those assembled at the San Francisco’s Rrazz Room on Thursday night, “I fell in love.”

Valentin was one of several musicians and fans who turned out to the cabaret club to show his support and share his love for Bofill, a Bay Area singer who scored several big R&B hits in the ‘80s but has since fallen on hard times. Other performers included vocalists Phil Perry and Maysa, appearing as part of the Angela Bofill Experience.

That Bofill was able to be part of this “Experience” was what made it so extraordinary.

That wasn’t a given, after a second stroke in 2007 left her partially paralyzed and barely able to speak. Since then, the 56-year-old Bofill has spent countless hours in speech and physical therapy.

Two benefit concerts helped her pay some of her medical bills. The second of these, at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 2007, was organized by Grammy-winning producer Narada Michael Walden — a major Angela Bofill fan.

“Everyone who knows her is very taken by her,” he said. “Her music has really transcended time.”

Still, most assumed that Bofill would never take the stage again. But there she was Thursday night, walking through the audience — which was on its feet and applauding with gusto — to take her spot
at the microphone during the opening gig of a four-night stand.

In back of her were three original members of the Angela Bofill band — bassist Kevin Walker, keyboardist Mo Daniels and drummer Greg Phillips. To her side were Valentin, Maysa and Perry. In front of her were fans who’ve been following the singer since as far back as 1978, when she released her first record, “Angie.”

It was nothing short of a lovefest. The fact that the star of the evening still can’t sing really didn’t dampen the party. This was a celebration of Bofill’s music, and the vocals were handled admirably by Perry and especially, Maysa, a powerhouse contemporary jazz singer best known for her work in the band Incognito.

“The difference between (this show) and the benefit concerts is that this is not a benefit,” said Lisa Bautista, publicist for the Rrazz Room. "This is Angela’s way of saying, ‘These are the cards that have been dealt to me, and I’m going to stay connected to not only my music, but especially my fans.’ "

Earlier in the day Bofill admitted she was nervous about the concert. But she said it was her “mission” to get back to the microphone.

“Music is a unifying force for people,” she said. “It changes countries.”

Although she didn’t sing Thursday, she did plenty of talking — and her voice has improved dramatically since I interviewed her in 2007. She was witty and full of good, often quite racy, humor.

She also looked radiant, in a leopard print wrap with her hair and makeup done up like she was on her way to the Presidential Ball.

The fans reacted to the Bofill classics, whether sung by Maysa or Perry, like they were seeing old friends for the first time in years. Maysa’s version of “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter,” a particularly memorable Bofill nugget, caused one fan to call out, “This is my song!”

The fan was quickly corrected by the guy sitting next to her: “No, this is my song!”

One can forgive fans for feeling so protective. They spent a lot of years fretting that they might never hear these songs performed live again. Thanks to one courageous woman, however, their wishes came true.

Read Jim Harrington’s Concert Blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts/.