Monthly Archives: February 2012

Review: Annie Ross

Annie Ross, Oran Mor, Glasgow, Tuesday February 21st *****

Missing a flight due to an expired passport, getting it renewed on a public holiday, flying from New York, giving interviews, attending a film premiere … any octogenarian who had had the kind of week that Annie Ross had already had by Tuesday night might feel a bit tired. But then Annie Ross is not just any octogenarian.

Clearly energised by the terrific reception she’d just had at the film festival, the jazz star took to the stage at Oran Mor and did not leave it for 90 minutes. She didn’t even take a break to let her top-drawer duo – pianist Tardo Hammer and bass player Andy Cleyndert – carry the load for a while. And what’s more, her deep, rich voice sounded stronger and more commanding than I’d heard it before.

She held the audience spellbound with her vivid and utterly compelling renditions of a series of ballads. She may not be able to sustain notes – and filling in the gaps with colour and wit is a task stylishly pulled off by Hammer – but she paints a beautiful picture and tells a gripping story. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and One Meatball, a Depression-era number, were mini-dramas and the audience hung on every word she sang.

Indeed, it’s her commitment to the lyrics which shines through; they’re invested with emotion and intelligence – and there are few singers who care as much about the meaning of what they’re singing. Among many highlights Lush Life was a particular stand-out – not only because to hear Ross perform it is like being given a masterclass in life lessons, but also because she learned it direct from its writer, Billy Strayhorn…

ANNIE ROSS with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Andy Cleyndert (bass), Tuesday February 21st

Nobody Else But Me

The Very Thought of You

Speak Low

Trav’lin’ Light

C’mon Home

In the Gentle Rain -Here’s That Rainy Day-Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry-If You Could See Me Now

Four

Remind Me

Twisted

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Watch What Happens

Lush Life

Bye Bye Blackbird

One Meatball

I Thought About You (scroll down for Thursday night’s programme)

Annie Ross with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Andy Cleyndert (bass), Oran Mor, Glasgow, Thursday, February 23rd

Nobody Else But Me

The Very Thought of You

Fun to Be Fooled

My Old Flame

Sing Baby Sing

I Wonder What Became of Me

Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

But Not For Me

Sure Thing

Poor You

Day In, Day Out

Nobody’s Heart-By Myself

Music Is Forever

Lush Life

One Meatball

encore:  I Got Rhythm

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My City of Stars Exhibition, Starring Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, 1956 (c) The Herald and Times Group

I’ve been totally pre-occupied these last two weeks curating an exhibition of photographs – some of them never before seen – of stars of cinema and music as they passed through my hometown of Glasgow from the 1920s onwards.

Of course, I had to include Louis Armstrong, whose 1956 visit to the city has become the stuff of local legend – though it was his 1962 visit that has a personal significance as that was when my 16-year-old father won a competition to meet him. (The signed photo hung in the family bathroom throughout my childhood – appropriately enough, given Louis’s love of laxatives.)

Anyway, here’s my write-up about what happened when Louis came to town in 1956.

By 1956, when Louis Armstrong made the first of his two post-war visits to Glasgow, he was no longer merely known to jazz fans the world over as the singlemost important figure in the evolution of the music. About to be seen in the all-star Hollywood musical High Society, he was also a household name – an entertainer and movie personality known universally as “Satchmo”.

Armstrong’s return to Glasgow, 22 years after his previous visit, was long overdue – so it’s little wonder there was a great deal of excitement about his back-to-back Kelvin Hall shows in the local press. The build-up started days before his arrival, with the Scottish Daily Express publishing “Satchmo’s Column”, a daily diary – clearly ghostwritten – chronicling his tour of Britain.

Nobody could have been more excited than the Clyde Valley Stompers, the trad band which was invited to appear on the bill alongside Armstrong and his All Stars. Four days before the show, the Evening Citizen published a telegram which the band had received:

“Old Pops is happy to hear that you are working on the bill with my All Stars when we play at the Kelvin Hall on May 15. We have got a wonderful show and my boys are playing greater than ever and I know from your reputation that your boys will help us to give the local cats a good evening’s music they will never forget. Regards, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong.”

Certainly, no-one who was at the show could ever forget it. Even before Armstrong had set foot on the revolving stage, there was the spectacle of the one-legged acrobatic dancer Peg Leg Bates to file away under “unforgettable”. The Bulletin reported that once the All Stars’ set was underway, “the music was alive and the bubbling energy of Louis infectious”.

Fans had had to wait an hour for their hero, who didn’t come onstage until the second half. It was reported in the Daily Record the next day that he had been giving an impromptu trumpet lesson to eight-year-old Fraser Watson, whom he had spotted clutching his new trumpet amidst the throng of screaming teenagers at the stage door.

When Armstrong did come on, he played for a solid 60 minutes. The only dampener on proceedings was the sight of rows of empty seats near the front – only the less pricey seats had sold out.

Between his two shows, Armstrong feasted on a fish supper brought to his dressing room by the Glasgow-born jazz singer turned Broadway star Ella Logan who was also on the bill. Mamie Crichton of the Evening News was horrified by the choice of food on a triumphant occasion which called for “chicken and champagne”. She described Armstrong eating his fish, with his shirt hanging out, “jacket off, horn-rim spectacles on, a handkerchief tied round his head and his wide, battered lips smeared thickly with his own special lip-salve.”

Don Whyte of the Scottish Daily Express quoted Armstrong’s opinion of his carry-out. “Man, ah couldn’t have done this a while ago with my old stomach trouble. But now ah’ll have blown this lot down after five minutes with my horn.” Armstrong was famous for sharing his favourite laxative, Swiss Kriss, with new friends, but he doesn’t seem to have done this in Glasgow. Instead, Mamie Crichton and the others present backstage were offered diet charts which Armstrong fished out of a huge grip bag and “insisted on autographing for each of us”.

Telling them that he’d lost 15lbs in a year, he said: “You can eat anything you like on this diet, but the secret is – never eat late at night. You take a spoonful of this [he reached into the grip for a jar of white powder] ten minutes after meals, and some of this [in again for a herb mixture] just before you go to bed.”

While fans swarmed outside his police-guarded dressing room, Armstrong also played host to a tailor. Satchmo, you see, had decided that he wanted to be fitted for a kilt – in the Armstrong tartan, of course. In his column in the Express, he explained that his name probably derived from one of Scottish “boss men on the plantations” in the Deep South during the days of slavery. “They knew how to make all the cats toe the line,” he added.

As he was measured by the envoy from Lawries the kiltmakers for the full Highland monty (kilt, shoes, jacket, stockings,  balmoral etc), Armstrong told The Bulletin that he planned to wear it on Ed Sullivan’s TV show back in New York – and that his singer, Velma Middleton (all 350lbs of her) would be getting a kilt too. While reporters took notes and local celebrities – including Jimmy Logan, Ella’s nephew – looked on, Armstrong was busy trying to get his vital statistics from his wife, Lucille. Their conversation was reported in the Express:

” ‘Lucille,’ he asked his dark-skinned fourth wife. ‘What size of shoes do I take?’
‘Nine and a half, my man,’ says Lucille.
‘Hey sugar-brown, what size of hat do I wear?’ asks Satchmo.
‘I dunno. You never wears a hat,’ replies Lucille.”

Perhaps Mr and Mrs Armstrong should have consulted Satchmo’s valet, Doc Pugh, who was in charge of the non-Highland part of his master’s wardrobe. Asked by the Express – for the article MacSatchmo Gets Measured for a Kilt – why Armstrong was wearing a blue suit while the rest of his band was in black, Doc Pugh explained that it was because he only had one black suit. “It’s black mohair – and he’s keeping it off because it’s too warm.”

In fact, it was so warm that, upon arrival in Glasgow, Doc Pugh bought 50 white handkerchiefs (at £5, 5s) to pile up on the piano so that Armstrong would always have one handy to mop his sweaty brow during his shows. Glaswegians who had seen him during his earlier visits, in 1932 and 1933, had been appalled by the amount of sweat to pour out of the trumpeter. One newspaper headline had read: “The World’s Hottest Trumpeter Perspires at the Empire”.

Judging by the reviews, Armstrong needed his hanky supply in 1956. The Citizen said: “He never stopped blowing magic out of dat ol’ horn, hopping about, whooping up the solo bits of his colleagues singing solo or duet with the vast Velma Middleton from a throat that must be a landslide of whole rocks down there to produce that sound. The Daily Record reported that Armstrong got “the Kelvin Hall ROAR”, and that “even a three-quarter’s empty first house didn’t put him off his stride.”

Two days after Armstrong’s triumphant return to Glasgow, the papers were still carrying stories about it. The Evening News revealed that just before the concert, Armstrong had lost his mute and an SOS had to be put out to the London makers of his trumpet. A mute was rushed to Euston Station, put on a fast train to Glasgow and met there by Jimmy McCormack, of the well-known city centre music shop McCormack’s. He jumped in a taxi with it and delivered it to Armstrong in time for the first house….

* The City of Stars exhibition – which also features Cab Calloway – runs at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from February 25 until September.

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Parliamentary Jazz Awards

I’ve just been alerted to the fact that the Parliamentary Jazz Awards are looking for nominations, so if you want to suggest some, click here for the form… I’ll need to give it some thought and put forward my own nominations. The closing date is Monday, February 20.

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Review: Joe Temperley Quartet

Joe Temperley Quartet, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Friday February 3rd ****

 

The Fife Jazz Festival may only be five years old but the region has long featured on the jazz map – thanks, largely, to the fact that the leading baritone player in the world hails from Lochgelly. Joe Temperley, the New York-based saxophonist in question, is not an infrequent visitor to Scotland, but a gig in his original stomping ground on the opening night of the jazz festival was bound to be a special event – and it certainly lived up to expectations.

Now in his eighties, Temperley still plays with an energy and force that belies his age. He let rip on a couple of fast blues, but it was on the slow and mid-tempo tunes that he made the strongest impression with a tone which is both tender and authoritative. His bluesy, groovy take on Sweet and Lovely was a perfect example of this.

A string of compositions by Ellington (whom Temperley described as “my hero”) were the stand-outs of the evening; the saxophonist’s sensitive – and downright seductive – take on Sunset and the Mockingbird underlining his reverence for the Duke’s music.

That reverence was clearly shared by Dan Nimmer, the young pianist Temperley had brought with him from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. An elegant player with a crisp style and more than a touch of the Erroll Garners about him, he set up Temperley’s exquisite version of Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom with a sublime rendering of Ellington’s Reflections in D, which revealed his own credentials as an Ellington disciple.

JOE TEMPERLEY (baritone sax), with Dan Nimmer (piano), Brian Shiels (bass) & Tom Gordon (drums)

I

It’s You Or No-One

Sweet and Lovely

Billie’s  Bounce

Body and Soul

I’ve Got the World on a String (without JT)

blues

II

Tricotism

In a Sentimental Mood

Rubber Bottom

I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart

Sunset and the Mockingbird

Reflections in D/Lotus Blossom

In a Mellow Tone

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

Take the A Train (encore)

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