A trip to London was the only way to ensure that my new year got off on the right foot. Why? Because two of my favourite US tenor saxophonists were playing there, to full houses – a couple of nights apart.
The majestic Houston Person, whose music I’ve only become acquainted with in the last handful of years, wowed a packed Ronnie Scott’s on Monday with his soulful take on such numbers as Who Can I Turn To, Sweet Sucker and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.
In, er, person the charismatic Houston P is a man of few words – and it’s the same story when he plays: on the gorgeous ballads Maybe You’ll Be There (which I associate with one of my – and, I suspect, his – favourite singers, Lee Wiley), Too Late Now and Why Did I Choose You? (something of a signature tune for this tenor man), his playing was spare yet eloquent, and always with that soulful streak which often manifested itself in a trademark bluesy phrase. He was accompanied by the house trio, led by pianist James Pierce, and they all seemed to be having a ball in each other’s company.
On Saturday, Scott Hamilton – one of my very first musical loves, back when I got hooked on jazz in my teens – had played the final night of his New Year’s residency at the Pizza Express.
Accompanied by his regular, top-drawer, trio of John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), Hamilton – whose conversational drawl offstage is now so endearingly drawn-out that you sometimes wonder if he’ll fall asleep before he finishes his sentence – was in especially relaxed mode during the first set which featured the gorgeous ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and the most laidback uptempo blues imaginable.
Bizarrely, Hamilton seemed to receive and respond to my telepathic request for the lovely Cole Porter number Dream Dancing, one of my favourite tracks on the first Scott Hamilton album (Plays Ballads, 1989) I ever owned – and one which I had been humming all day…
I decided not to risk a telepathic communications breakdown in the second set and verbally requested another ballad, If I Love Again, which had been a highlight of the penultimate night of Hamilton’s summer residency. It turned out to be every bit as exquisite second time around.
There seemed to have been a gear change for the second set which was downright sensational; another stand-out being the super-funky Mary Lou Williams number Lonesome Moments which, Hamilton explained, they had “tried out” for the first time a couple of nights previously and had been requested to revisit. Turning to his ace drummer, the laconic tenor man said: “Some misterioso drumming, please” and launched into this catchy and atmospheric new addition to his repertoire.
The icing on an already delightful cake was the reinstatement to the Hamilton programme of another ballad with which he used to end sets: the Duke Ellington tune Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face. He wasn’t the only one…
HOUSTON PERSON, with James Pierce (piano), Sam Burgess (bass) & Shanee Forbes (drums); Ronnie Scott’s, Monday January 9, 2012
Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Maybe You’ll Be There
Too Late Now
Only Trust Your Heart
Lester Leaps In
Since I Fell For You
Who Can I Turn To?
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
Why Did I Choose You?
On the Sunny Side of the Street
SCOTT HAMILTON QUARTET, Pizza Express, London, Saturday January 7, 2012
I Just Found Out About Love
Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most
Sweet Georgia Brown
If I Love Again – The Man I Love
Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face