Monthly Archives: June 2014

Jacqui of All Trades

Jacqui DankworthJacqui Dankworth is in a class of her own. Not only is she the offspring of jazz royalty (her father was saxophonist, bandleader and composer John Dankworth; her mother is the formidable vocalist Cleo Laine), but the disarmingly unaffected singer and actress has a career that must be widely envied, not least for its eclecticism and variety.

In her visits to Scotland in the last year alone, Dankworth has performed in an opera at the Edinburgh International Festival, sung songs from family movies and cartoons with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and headlined one of the most successful concerts at the British Vocal Jazz Festival, within the Fringe.

For that concert, she was reunited with her occasional singing partner, Edinburgh-based Todd Gordon, and the pair bring their hugely popular Frank & Ella show to the Glasgow Jazz Festival this week. It’s proved to be a winning combination, and, since the two stars  – whose close friendship offstage accounts for the warm atmosphere on it – clearly get a kick out of performing together, it’s more double than tribute act. Indeed, as Dankworth points out: “I don’t sing like Ella but obviously I grew up listening to her. She was a one-off. It’s not a tribute show; it’s just acknowledging her and singing some songs that she sang.”

The Ella side of the operation, says Dankworth, means that pretty much anything from the Great American Songbook goes, as she sang everything during her long and prolific career – and in many instances, the record-buying public know more than one Fitzgerald recording of a song, since many live performances were been released on LPs.

“It’s strange because obviously Frank Sinatra had a lot more songs that he made the definitive versions of,  and hits that he was strongly associated with – like My Way and New York, New York – but that isn’t necessarily the case with Ella Fitzgerald. Hers was a different kind of career really. With Sinatra, it was almost more about him in a way than the songs. With her, she was serving the song.”

Although Dankworth may have had free rein to choose pretty much any standards she fancied – since Fitzgerald undoubtedly recorded them all – she did have to include two which are strongly associated with the legendary singer: Every Time We Say Goodbye (“though it was only a hit here – not in the States”) and How High the Moon, which became a Fitzgerald party piece due to her downright dazzling scat solo.

When it’s put to her that the other Ella’s with whom Todd Gordon has worked might have shied away from the mind-blowing acrobatics of Fitzgerald’s How High the Moon solo, Dankworth laughs and says: “It took me a long time to learn that solo. It feels easy now but when I first started learning it I thought how am I ever going to do this?! I learned it for Todd.”

Strangely, although Dankworth never met or heard Fitzgerald live (the teenage Todd Gordon did,  though, at the Usher Hall in the 1970s) she can boast of having spent an evening in the company of Gordon’s concert alter ego, Frank Sinatra. It was 1984, and Dankworth had recently graduated from Guildhall’s drama department.

She recalls: “I was on a 73 bus and as it passed the Albert Hall, I saw mum’s name because she was opening for Sinatra. I decided I should go and see her. They were all going out for a meal afterwards, and she said: ‘I’ll ask Frank if I can bring you along.’ So she rang his dressing room, and he said it was fine. I said: ‘Mum, I’d love to come but .. ..look at me!’ I was wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.”

“Mum said: ‘Look, grab some earrings and we’ll get you jouged up a bit.’ So I sat looking slightly bedraggled on this table with the owners of all the casinos in Monte Carlo and the guy who was responsible for bringing Liza Minnelli over to Britain, plus this songwriter who’d had a big hit in the 1960s – I can’t remember his name. They were wearing their Versace and I was in a T-shirt and denims. It was a mad night.” And that was even before the songwriter made the Frank faux pas of bringing up the subject of a Mafia murder which was in the news. Dankworth remembers freezing in her seat. “I thought ‘oh God, get me out of here’. It was the longest three seconds of my life.”

A much more pleasant memory is that of Sinatra’s performance earlier that evening. “His presence onstage was astounding,” she says. “He sang every lyric as though he meant it – especially Ol’ Man River, which would normally be a bit odd, but he made it work. He made me cry..” And did she get to talk to him? “Well, not really. I just shook hands and said it was a pleasure to meet him.”

At that stage in her life, Dankworth had not yet even begun to try to make her mark as a singer; acting was her passion and for 15 years she made her living as a jobbing actress, having first discovered her flair for drama while at boarding school. Her musical gifts first revealed themselves during her schooldays too – and she played violin, flute and sang. “The music teacher thought I was talented. He wrote these incredibly difficult musicals and my mum remembers feeling gob-smacked when they came to hear me sing in these musicals because it was really difficult music, and I was nine or ten.”

It was only in her thirties that the naturally shy Dankworth began to focus on singing. “My passion was acting and it was when I met my first husband and he said ‘Let’s form a band’ that I got into doing more music, but when I started singing a lot I found it very difficult. It was easier when I was acting as I had to be someone else.  In fact, I remember having this conversation with Paloma Faith once and I asked her how she was able to be so outrageous onstage. She said: ‘Jacqui, I’m so shy, if I were just me up there everyone would feel shy and embarrassed’ so in a way she has a persona that gets her through. She’s approaching her stage persona in the way an actor would approach a part – and I identify with that.”

* The Frank & Ella Show/Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth is at the City Halls on Friday. Visit www.jazzfest.co.uk for details and ticket links, or call 0141 353 8000.

* First published in Scotland on Sunday on June 22nd

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Book Review: All This and Slowly Deteriorating Fast – The Memoirs of a Geriatric Jazz Buff, by Jim Godbolt (Proper Music Publishing)

GodboltWell, this was supposed to be a jolly book review; timed to usher in jazz festival season. Of course, it is still timely in that respect, but jolly? Nae chance. This is a bitter biography which highlights the fact that fierce divisiveness is not a new thing in jazz – it’s been going since the music first began to evolve. It also reminds us that one man’s jazz pleasure can often be another’s poison.

Jim Godbolt was (he died last year, aged 90) a well-known jazz expert who managed one of the biggest bands in the trad revival of the late 1940s, worked as an agent for rock groups in the 1960s, and spent years editing the house magazines for two leading London jazz venues – Ronnie Scott’s and the 100 Club.

He was also the author of several books – two volumes of memoirs (the second incorporating the first), plus the History of Jazz in Britain 1919-1950. This final book, assembled by friends to whom he dictated new passages while he was bedridden and cursed by problems with his vision, covers his declining health (cue rants against the NHS in particular) and revisits parts of the earlier autobiography. At times, he seems to go round in circles, repeating himself (occasionally word for word); his heyday of the late 1940s proving a favourite stop-off point in the circles of memories.

Tellingly, Godbolt wrote in his opening chapter of All This and Slowly Deteriorating Fast that he was including characters from the earlier books again in this new one, “but viewed from different angles”. It’s soon clear that what he really meant was “now they’re dead, I’ll say what I really thought of them” – since there is actually a fair bit of bitchiness in his comments, notably about the otherwise universally loved Humphrey Lyttelton.

Indeed, it was while reading the fourth chapter, entitled The Gentlemen of Jazz, of this dinky, CD-square shaped book (which comes with a compilation disc of relevant tracks) that I realized that I was not warming to Godbolt one iota. His gripe against Lyttelton, about whom he wrote at length as if the quantity of words alone suggested at least that he acknowledged his importance in British jazz, was – according to the book at any rate – not personal. He blames it on Humph’s “most memorable volte-face” when Godbolt says he first abandoned then publicly condemned the principles of the post-war Revivalism movement  – during which young jazz musicians, including Humph himself, had revived the style and format of the original American jazz bands of the early 1920s.

But one senses that there’s more to it than Godbolt’s outrage at the popular Lyttelton’s decision to distance himself from trad purists. Perhaps it was his natural charisma, or his privileged background and Eton education that made the author – who emerges as someone who could find something to take exception to in any situation – seethe with polite venom?

Godbolt does seem to have a chip on his shoulder about class. Indeed, he comes across as someone weighed down by shoulder chips: the chapter on his years working as an agent contains much that is fascinating about the day-to-day – apparently thankless – business of being an agent, but it is also an opportunity for Godbolt to reel off a series of gripes about misconceptions about agents, and about what agents had to put up with.

In another section, he appears to be providing a potted biog and career overview of the great maverick clarinettist and composer Sandy Brown, but it soon morphs into an ill-judged moan about the fact that musicians at the bar drowned out his speech at Brown’s 100 Club memorial. He quotes one of the musicians’ well-meaning attempt at an apology and adds that it “was not a great comfort for this disgruntled speaker who had spent hours working on the speech.” Brown died in 1975. It seems that Godbolt’s “huff” – as he himself described it – continued until his own passing.

Never mind the “Mouldy Figs” – the term used in the British scene to describe the jazz purists who waged battle with the beboppers in the postwar years – this memoir reeks of sour grapes. It’s a damn shame. In the name of background research, I texted a musician friend who’s been on the London scene since the 1980s and dealt with all the jazz “characters”. Unprompted, he volunteered that Godbolt had long been known as a “grudge-bearer” and a “misanthrope”.  In which case, he certainly gives an accurate portrayal of himself in his final book.

* First published in the Sunday Herald on June 22nd

 

 

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Review: Leith Jazz Festival 2014

The Ugly Bug Ragtime ThreeFree jazz can mean two things. It can connote jazz that’s wholly, wildly, improvised – and it can mean amateur hour. And that’s where this year’s Leith Jazz Festival turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. Why? Because over the course of two and a half days, it offered punters the chance to hear not just good jazz, but also world-class jazz – and all for the price of a pint (or three).

Returning to the festival for its third year, alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw must have had deja vu as he took to what passed for the stage area in Sofi’s on Saturday. His duo gig there with bassist Ed Kelly was one of the highlights of 2012, and the follow-up was just as memorable – though this time it had the added appeal of a canine floorshow as it coincided with the monthly meeting of local dog owners and their pooches.

Kershaw and Kelly dished up a wonderful afternoon of cool, classy swinging jazz, with an especially slow Manha de Carnivale and the beguiling, Stan Getz-associated, ballad With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair among the highlights.

A second helping of Kershaw’s airy, eloquent sax was a must on Sunday at the Isobar where the 1950s West Coast sound was evoked by him, trombonist Chris Grieve and guitarist Graeme Stephen, a sublime sounding combination which – appropriately enough, given that Leith’s twin city is Rio de Janeiro – worked especially well on a couple of bossas.

The Isobar also played host to another of the weekend’s stand-outs: a duo gig by trumpeter Colin Steele and guitarist Lachlan MacColl. The joint was jumping so much that MacColl’s douce guitar playing got lost in the lively ambience, but Steele certainly made himself heard, not least on an especially funky Blues March and an uptempo, boppish All the Things You Are – the second of three outings for the Jerome Kern classic that the Isobar witnessed over the weekend.

For anyone who fondly remembers the old Edinburgh Jazz Festival pub trail, the Leith event is its 21st century incarnation. The spirit seemed to prevail most strongly at the Saturday afternoon gig by The Ugly Bug Ragtime Three (pictured above), a clarinet-bass-banjo/guitar trio recently hatched by leader John Burgess.

If only there had been more breathing space in the packed-out Malt ‘n’ Hops pub, there would almost certainly have been an outbreak of slow dancing along to the Uglies’ gorgeous, gently swinging How Come You Do Me Like You Do. Ah well. Maybe next year … the festival is still young.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 9th

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The Sound of Fifty Summers

Getz:Gilberto coverFifty years ago, while the Beatles stormed America, an altogether cooler, more laidback craze breezed across the world. The summery, sultry, gently swaying sound of bossa nova, which had blown in from Brazil and captured the imagination of American jazz musicians, was showcased in a landmark collaboration between tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and a Brazilian quartet led by guitarist/singer Joao Gilberto and featuring music written by the great composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Getz/Gilberto was the album and it’s a landmark LP in jazz and pop history. It put bossa nova on the map, produced a chart-topping single, and made household names of both Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, the singer whose beguilingly unfussy, airy vocals helped make a hit of the album’s opening track, The Girl From Ipanema – which is now the second most recorded pop song in history (after the Beatles’ Yesterday). Getz/Gilberto was the first jazz album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. And now, to mark its 50th anniversary – and just in time for a Brazil-themed summer – it has been re-issued in a special edition CD.

It’s an album which has become so familiar and is so accessible, and its tunes – Corcovado, Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – so readily associated with bossa and so often now reduced to what’s tantamount to elevator music, that it’s easy to forget that this was all brand new and trendsetting back in 1964. Also, as the American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton says, “not only is it the best that Stan ever played – and that’s saying something – but it’s also one of those rare albums that is just perfect.”

Edinburgh-based alto saxophonist and Getz admirer Martin Kershaw agrees, and points out that it is a peerless example of “crossover” music. “We’ve all heard collaborations where we’ve thought ‘mm, that sounds like a slightly half-baked version of the two kinds of music that have been fused’, but that’s certainly not the case here. It feels like a finished article in that it just works so well. Getz himself sounds so comfortable in it .You don’t feel for a second that there’s anything forced or contrived about it; it sounds very natural. It’s an amazing collaboration.”

Whereas many jazz recordings of the period showcased a soloist or two with a rhythm section, Getz/Gilberto comes over as much more of a group effort; The Girl From Ipanema flows from Joao Gilberto’s soft Portuguese vocals – first hummed then quietly sung – into his wife’s breezy English vocals then Getz’s wistful tenor sax and Jobim’s gentle piano chords ….  The whole thing is soothing, undulating, languid, dreamy, romantic and a sort of comforting musical tonic for Americans living through turbulent times. This was a nation still reeling from the Kennedy assassination just a few months earlier. And not everybody was finding musical solace or distraction in the noisy invaders from Liverpool.

Stan Getz’s daughter, Bev, was ten years old when the album came out in 1964 and was present at many of the rehearsals and get-togethers before it was recorded the year before. Her impression of the atmosphere and personalities is exactly what anyone who loves the record would hope and expect. She says: “I found the Brazilians to be just such lovely, friendly, warm people; really gracious and fun-loving and kind. They were definitely not Americans, you could tell! They came to our house and we went to Joao and Astrud’s apartment, where they were staying in Manhattan, to rehearse – I remember being there a couple of times with my parents.

“And that’s when my dad heard Astrud singing – while she was doing the dishes. He said: ‘Let’s have Astrud sing the English lyrics’ – because they needed somebody to sing the English lyrics and I guess that’s how that came about.”

And the music? “I remember thinking how pretty it was – and how different to what I’d heard before. And my dad was quite taken with it – on so many levels. He referred to it as folk music; he said it’s beautiful music. He always loved folk music from all different countries, because it expressed who the people were from that country.”

Jobim, who was just one week older than Getz, told the saxophonist that he had written the songs on Getz/Gilberto while listening to and being influenced by the West Coast “cool school” jazz of the 1950s, a scene which Getz belonged to. So it really was a meeting of like minds on many levels, and a very organic music-making process. For Getz, who had recorded Brazilian music on his earlier Verve album, Jazz Samba, with the guitarist Charlie Byrd, this was the next step: recording it with the leading Brazilian musicians of the day.

The impact and success of the album – and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – took everyone by surprise. Bev Getz was oblivious to her father’s newfound pop star status -until, that is, he took the family to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium (“It was awful, I was completely unimpressed – you couldn’t hear a thing for all the screaming!”) and they were invited to go back to meet the Fab Four at their New York hotel after what turned out to be a historic concert.

Bev recalls: “We were in the lobby of, I think it was the Plaza, waiting to be escorted up and of course I was on tenterhooks. But then we heard that some fan had gotten up on to the roof and was threatening to throw herself off if she didn’t get to meet the Beatles. And that was it: we had to leave, because that became a whole big thing. And that was a huge disappointment in my life!”

Although he appreciated the opportunities and the fame which came with the success of The Girl From Ipanema and Getz/Gilberto, for Getz the musician, the association with bossa nova soon became a bit of a burden, and a bit of a bore. Bev explains: “He went with whatever he was feeling and hearing at the time. He did it, and then he moved on. And that’s what he did with the whole bossa nova thing – as a matter of fact he got pretty sick of it. Musically, he never stood still, he never stayed in one place. He was a creator so he wanted to create, he wanted to continue – and he was always being pulled back to the bossa.

“He didn’t resent it; he was just like “aaarrrggghhh!”. And in later years he would rarely play The Girl From Ipanema; he would play one of the ones that he really loved more, O Grande Amor. I think he threw that one into just about every set. It’s my favourite – and it was his too.”Getz, Gilberto & co

* Getz/Gilberto: Expanded Edition (Verve) is out now. Martin Kershaw plays every Thursday at the Playtime evening he co-founded at the Outhouse, Edinburgh (www.playtime-music.com)

* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday June 7th 

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