On Saturday 9th May The Jazz Repertory Company present their fifteenth concert at Cadogan Hall. Until now, their programmes have concentrated on the jazz of the 20’s through to the 50’s, but this time around they’ve moved their focus to the jazz, blues and soul of Ray Charles and Nina Simone.
Jeremy Sassoon will be bringing his 17-piece Ray Charles project to London for the first time and Liz Fletcher will be presenting a set of songs closely associated with Nina, including the big hits Feelin’ Good and I Love You Porgy alongside less well known gems such as Wild Is The Wind and Work Song. Jazz Repertory Company director Richard Pite interviewed her:
LondonJazz News: This is the first time in your jazz singing career that you’ve performed a tribute to another singer – is that different from what you normally do?
Liz Fletcher: I suppose I’m paying tribute to many singers when performing from the Great American Song Book. Their influences are probably subliminally interwoven without me even realising it. I’ve been reviewed as sounding like Julie London, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and Ella Fitzgerald which is hardly surprising as I’ve listened so much to these ladies. But doing a whole show, dedicated to one singer does feel different. Nina had a hugely powerful voice and personality – quite a challenge for an English blonde with a lighter timbre. I feel I have to be respectful to the original content and yet maintain my own identity. Nina’s musical arrangements are intrinsic to the way the songs are sung and apart from her amazing voice, why they are so recognisable. This is why I decided to stay close to the original source.
LJN: I believe you once suddenly found yourself as the support act for Nina. She was quite a tough cookie wasn’t she?
LF: Yes, it was bonkers! In 1999, I was on tour with the world music band ‘LoopGuru’ and we were doing a big open air festival in Thessalonika, Greece . At the sound check there was a sudden panic by the crew when a big limousine pulled up by the stage. A red carpet was quickly unravelled to greet Nina who rather unsteadily made it up the steps and into her own private loo which was in the wings. We did our set and then Nina came on, but she was in a very grumpy mood and shouted at everyone. I suppose at that time of life, she had a right but it did shatter my illusion and I was way too scared of her to ask for an autograph! Still, I will always be grateful to have shared the stage with such a great lady.
LJN: I can’t think of anyone who sounds quite like Nina but you do capture her style. How did you approach her songs?
LF: Thanks. I suppose it’s about listening lots and practice. A bit like when an instrumentalist learns a famous solo note for note, bend for bend, wiggle for wiggle, if you know what I mean? I could never sound like her all the time but I hope there are a few reminders.
LJN: Tell us a little about the band you’ll be using.
LF: What a talented bunch - Christian Vaughan is my musical director and pianist and he’s transcribed Nina’s arrangements and plays them brilliantly. Julie Walkington is one of London’s top bassists and it’s lovely to have another female on board, she’s a rare breed. We’re lucky to have Nigel Price on guitar, he’s very busy and prolific with his own projects.
LJN: Is there a particular favourite amongst the songs you’ll be singing?
LF: I adore ‘Wild is the Wind’- a beautiful ballad. After I fell in love with this song, I learned that David Bowie had seen Nina perform it and promptly learnt it and recorded the song on his album ‘Station to Station’, so I’m in good company! I also like singing ‘Work Song’ and ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ - they really swing - ‘House of the Rising Sun’ too.
LJN: Outside of your Nina show what else is happening with you and music right now?
LF: I’m doing lots of gigs with a super band called Jiving Miss Daisy run by the bassist Simon Thorpe. I’m headlining the Ealing Jazz Festival and playing at the ‘Give’ Festival with my experimental band doing dance music. And as you know, I’m a jobbing jazzer, Richard, doing whatever work comes in – as long as the phone keeps ringing, I keep singing. Oh yes, and I’ll be working on my next album to be released on my own label ‘Audioloob’ later in the year.
The Genius of Ray Charles and The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone is at 7.30pm on Saturday May 9th at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace London SW1 (just one minute’s walk from Sloane Square tube station). Ticket prices start at £16 – Box Office: 020 7730 4500.