Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella, Festival Theatre ***
After Alison Burns’s homage to Ella Fitzgerald at the Glasgow Jazz Festival, it was Seonaid Aitken, recently named Best Vocalist at the Scottish Jazz Awards but originally known on the jazz scene as a dazzlingly talented violinist, who had the honour of marking the legendary singer’s centenary for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
While Burns’s concert was a duo affair, in an intimate venue, Aitken’s, which featured the impressive Groove Merchant Big Band and The Scottish Festival Orchestra Strings, was the Saturday night slot at the Festival Theatre, an occasion which one might – given the jazz festival’s long history of all-star extravaganzas – have expected to boast a number of better-known names, each perhaps focusing on a different aspect of Fitzgerald’s back catalogue.
So, no pressure on Aitken then .. However, she pulled it out of the bag in terms of entertaining the audience with her warm personality and covering all areas of Fitzgerald’s career singlehandedly; even managing to justify a violin feature because there’s a violin solo on It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from Fitzgerald’s Ellington Songbook album.
That song, however, summed up the issue that any jazz aficionado might have had with this tribute. Its singer didn’t swing. Aitken has a beautiful voice, and she swings like mad when playing her violin – but when she’s singing lyrics, she is terribly sedate and sings the songs very straight. The stand-out of the evening was her recreation of Fitzgerald’s iconic scat solo on How High the Moon – where she did a superb job of letting rip and going with the swinging flow of the fantastic big band behind her.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th