Chris Ingham Quartet - The Music of Dudley Moore
(Pizza Express Dean Street 22nd January 2017. Review by A J Dehany)
Jazz pianist, classical organist, violinist, singer, beloved and endearing comic performer, a star of stage and TV in the ‘60s and a Hollywood movie star from the ‘70s, possessing a preternatural personal charm and two excellent legs… Dudley Moore was not only blessed with all these varied talents and attributes, but also a singular talent as a composer. Dame Gillian Lynne said of Dudley “It was tragic when he gave up composing to become a star.”
Not only a tragedy but also a piffling shame, the Dagenham-born lad’s poor life choices are amply addressed by pianist Chris Ingham's interpretations of his compositions on the album Dudley and on tour throughout the UK over the coming year. His indulgent stories and loving anecdotes are rich fare for those like me obsessed with British comedy of the 1960s, but the music really holds its own, and the band expand the sound beyond the Dudley’s primarily trio-based format, enriching them with Paul Higgs’s horns and young Harry Green on saxes. They focus on jazz rather than those comedy classics like Beethoven’s Colonel Bogey that stole the show at Beyond the Fringe.
Some tunes might be more or less familiar. The frolicsome theme to “Not Only… But also… alerts us to the remarkable fact that it brought a cooking trio slap bang in the middle of primetime British TV. Opener Duddley Dell has since 1976 been the theme to Radio Four’s Quote Unquote. It’s also the b-side to Dudley’s debut 1961 single Strictly for the birds, on which they substitute horns for the distractingly comic sound of Dudley’s admittedly fulsome falsetto, revealing an effervescent melody with a West Coast feel.
Amalgam deftly cycles round some edgy chord changes with a busy Brazilian feel reminiscent of Luiz Eça. It’s taken from the 1969 album The Dudley Moore Trio which has never been released on CD. The music is all Dudley originals but, says Ingham, “very, very difficult - more difficult than we altogether were prepared to get into!” More difficult to find than listen to, it would do no harm to Dudley’s “jazz credibility” to rerelease this album.
The group dips more liberally into Dudley’s filmography. “30 is a dangerous age” from the “super soundtrack to a dodgy film” takes a breezily playful theme and subsumes it into heavier more portentous material as if turning thirty were the most horrible thing! Bedazzled is a comic movie masterpiece with a beguiling soundtrack to boot. Yet as good as their spin through the sinuous melody of Bedazzled is it’s impossible not to hear Peter Cook drolly intoning “You fill me with inertia.”
It’s a reminder of the immortal comic chemistry of Pete and Dud, and the importance of that relationship in Dudley’s life. As he grew up, with emotionally restrained parents, childhood illnesses, a club foot and a shorter than average height, Dudley felt unloved and unlovable. It’s hard not to hear Love me! from Bedazzled as Dudley’s personal theme song. He himself said “I wanted love, but I wasn’t able to ask for it. Jazz was a passing way of making my feelings available to whoever might pick up on it. It became nostalgia for the love I wanted as a kid.”
The roots of his comedic gifts, and the key to his warmly human appeal (especially beside Peter Cook’s acerbity) are in childhood pain. Comedy and film stardom brought him some of the love he craved, but distracted him from his real love. “I think Dudley is only really alive at the piano,” concluded Rena Fruchter. Piano playing, said Leslie Bricusse, was the thing that “made Dudley tall”. Rena Fruchter was holding Dudley’s hand when he died, and she reported his final words were, "I can hear the music all around me."
Melancholy pervades Dudley’s compositions, and gems like Sad one for George and My Blue Heaven gleam poignantly. Waltz for Suzy is just as lovely while working in a seamless blend of both Dudley’s classical and jazz influences. Sad one for George reflects Dudley’s interest in the luminous harmonic piano conceptions of Bill Evans.
Comedy and melancholy go together like Pete and Dud. Yielding us a sigh and wishing us a fond goodbye, the group play us out with the double act's signature tune Goodbyeee which is as affecting as ever: "Goodbye! Goodbye! We're leaving you, skiddly-dye! Goodbye! We wish you all goodbye! Fa-ta ta-ta, fa-ta ta-ta!" - Goodbyee!
LINK: Chris Ingham Tour Dates