REVIEW: 1958: A Jazz Jamboree at Cadogan Hall

1958: A Jazz Jamboree at Cadogan Hall
Photo courtesy of Georgina Jackson

1958: A Jazz Jamboree
(Cadogan Hall. 8 June 2018. Review by Peter Vacher)

The word jazz conjures up any number of responses. Different strokes for different folks, you might say. Well, for the backroom team at the Jazz Repertory Company this time, it meant seizing on the year 1958 and celebrating a series of vocal break-throughs by major US artists, each of whom had a style imbued with jazz feeling. So no jazz milestones as such, rather a series of programme sequences recalling significant recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Ray Charles, each represented by a star local vocalist accompanied by the consistently brilliant Pete Long Orchestra, with just a dash of Ellingtonia to open each half.

Presenter David Hepworth was on hand to remind us of the state of the nation in 1958 and to add illuminating details regarding the nominated singers and their circumstances but the meat of the night was in those vocal recreations. Enter in turn Georgina Jackson [for Ella], Iain Mackenzie [for Sinatra], Liz Fletcher [for Nina] and the very lively Jeremy Sassoon [for Ray Charles]. Jackson, minus trumpet, is more sure-footed these days, and caught Ella’s brio without ever trying to sound like her. She has real stage presence and a musician’s ear for vocal nuance. Still with songs like ‘Let’s Face the Music’ and ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ complete with trumpeter Jim Davison adding a Dixie burst, how could she go wrong? The gleaming Mackenzie has created something of a niche market for himself as the go-to singer for any Sinatra tribute and clearly relished the opportunity to celebrate the master with Long’s sterling big band, exultant on those Billy May charts. Moonlight in Vermont taken slow, was a standout with a peach of a solo by trombonist Andy Flaxman.

Fletcher wriggles rhythmically as she sings but largely stays anchored to the mike, so not for her any overt Simone histrionics. Her sets offered a contrast teaming her with just the rhythm quartet, pianist Christian Vaughan [a new name to me] and guitarist Nigel Price taking their solo moments with aplomb. Pertinent here to mention Julie Walkington's rock-solid bass line and drummer Richard Pite’s adaptability and playing joie-de-vivre. Fletcher is an underrated vocalist, more Peggy Lee than Simone, to be honest, but with a vocal warmth that’s innately pleasing. Vaughan’s long solo introduced My Baby Just Cares for Me taken by Fletcher as a happy romp. Highlight? An extended solo from Price on the very bright Exactly Like You. How wise to assign pianist/vocalist Jeremy Sassoon to the wrap-up spot for each half of the concert. Extrovert and confident, he really gave the Ray Charles song-book a thorough going-over, bringing out all of Ray’s gritty blues feeling with a romping response from the Long chaps, some like tenorist Dean Masser, trombonist Callum Au and altoist Martin Williams out front and giving their all.

For the out-and-out jazzers among us, Long scheduled two bursts of Ellingtonia – the opener a stunning version of El Gato with trumpeters George Hogg and Davison going at it in bravura fashion. In turn, altoist Colin Skinner offered his version of Prelude to a Kiss, poised and controlled in the proper Johnny Hodges manner. Here and there, there were solo interjections from the instrumentalists, Long’s musical direction and the section blends in perfect order, trumpets excelling, but overall it was a night that belonged to the singers and their songs.

BAND : The Pete Long Orchestra directed by Pete Long

Jim Davison, George Hogg, Tom Gardner, Steve Jones [t]
Callum Au, Andy Flaxman, Mike Feltham [tb]; Andy Derrick [b-tb]
Mark Crooks [ts, cl]; Dean Masser [ts, cl, fl]; Colin Skinner [as, cl, fl, picc]; Martin Williams [as, fl]
Mick Foster [bs, bcl]
Christian Vaughan [p]; Nigel Price [g]; Julie Walkington [b]; Richard Pite [d]
Georgina Jackson, Iain Mackenzie, Liz Fletcher, Jeremy Sassoon [voc]

Peter Vacher's book Swingin' on Central Avenue won the 2016 ARSC Best History in Jazz Music Award.

LINK: Preview of 1958: A Jazz Jamboree at Cadogan Hall

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