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Janet Seidel Obituary

Janet Seidel, who has died in Sydney at the age of 62, was a much-loved singer and pianist christened “First Lady of Jazz” by critics in her native Australia where she was regarded as something of an institution and a figurehead of the jazz scene there. A regular visitor to Scotland in recent years, she made many friends and won many admirers with her gently swinging musical style, her soft, breathy vocals and her warm and charismatic personality.
 
Indeed, one of the most memorable aspects of Seidel’s 2011 trio concert at Glasgow’s Recital Room was the way she established an instant rapport with the audience – a skill undoubtedly honed through years working in piano-bars early on in her career.
 
Todd Gordon, the Scottish jazz singer, radio presenter and concert promoter who twice brought Seidel to Glasgow, points out that she actually had a knack for charming the audience before she was fully installed at the piano. “She would win them over in about five seconds by just quietly and unassumingly sliding onto the piano stool while beaming that warm smile.” 
 
The same thing had happened at the Lyth Arts Centre, in Caithness, where Seidel became a regular visitor after being booked by the venue’s director William Wilson for her Scottish debut in 2005. He adds: “As she slid onto the piano stool, she hit the first chord and sang the first note right on pitch – no looking at the keyboard or adjusting the mike – it demonstrated consummate musical professionalism and stagecraft.”
 
Born in 1955 and raised on a dairy farm near Adelaide, Seidel only discovered her singing voice thanks to the LP of the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews, which she listened to every time she carried out her weekly chore – of doing her family’s ironing. With four brothers, there were a lot of shirts to iron and Seidel soon knew that famous  Lerner and Loewe score inside out – so when her school announced plans to stage My Fair Lady, she knew she had to overcome her natural shyness and audition for the part of Eliza Doolittle.
 
Having studied piano from an early age, Seidel read classical music at university in Adelaide. While she was a student there, she formed a band with two of her brothers and they played at country dances and local gigs. “We did everything from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo to Suzi Quatro songs,” she said in 2011. She was still working with one of her brothers, bass playing David Seidel, in recent years – he, along with her partner Chuck Morgan, who plays guitar – was part of the trio which came to Scotland several times, most recently last October.
 
During Seidel’s university years, piano bars became popular – and proved to be a lucrative way of subsidising student life, though it took a bit of getting used to, especially for someone accustomed to having her brothers accompanying her and being surrounded by friends. For the solo gig, Seidel had to learn how to interact with strangers. She later said: “The idea of the piano bar is that people come in and sit around the piano bar and want to talk to you. It really was a baptism of fire but it served me well. Back then, you could get work anywhere in the world just playing piano and singing.”
 
To begin with, she played poppier material – Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were her favourite songwriters – but she soon graduated on to the Great American Songbook and thereafter stuck with it.
 
It was while she was still at school that Seidel first heard jazz – on the radio. She was particularly taken with the singer-pianists Nat “King” Cole and Blossom Dearie. Both proved highly influential – but the girlish-sounding Dearie especially so. The jazz writer Whitney Balliett once said of Dearie’s “tiny” voice that, without a microphone, “it wouldn’t reach the second floor of a doll’s house”.
 
During her student days, Seidel had the chance to see Dearie perform – and it proved to be a defining moment. “She came to Adelaide as the support artist for Stephane Grappelli who was on an Australian tour. She did a solo thing in the first half and it was just magical, you know – one of those spine-tingling moments.. I’d always been a bit ashamed of my voice – it wasn’t a huge operatic voice, and it wasn’t a big mama kind of belter. Then I heard Blossom’s fairy-like voice and I thought: ‘She’s so delicate and intimate, and still communicating that way without doing anything silly with her voice.’ And I loved the way she played piano.”
 
Listening to recordings by Julie London – Seidel loved her “caressing voice” – and Peggy Lee also helped shape Seidel’s soft and gentle style. “I read in a book that, before she became a star, Peggy was singing in a bar and there was a lot of loud noise. She decided that she would sing a bit more softly to see if it would quieten the crowd down, and it worked.”
 
Moving to Sydney in the 1980s, Seidel made a name for herself on the cabaret and jazz scenes and worked in education before launching her international career. She toured extensively and was especially popular in Japan. From 1994, she was a regular in the recording studio, and she leaves a legacy of 18 albums ranging from Comme Ci, Comme Ca – a celebration of French chansons – to her south seas-flavoured album Moon of Manakoora, which spent three months at the top of the jazz vocal charts in Japan (and subsequently won Best Jazz Vocal Album gong at the National Jazz Awards in Australia). 
 
Seidel also recorded some classy tributes to those singers who had inspired her, and although she was strongly associated with those stars, as Todd Gordon points out, “she had her own distinctive style and timbre.”
 
He adds:  “She will be sorely missed, especially by the army of fans she built up over her many years of touring the globe.” William Wilson says: “As Lyth was one of the first UK venues to discover Janet Seidel, we were always pleased to invite her back again, and were delighted to note that her recent UK tours stretched to over twenty venues, after starting out with just Lyth plus a couple of other places back in 2005. We are devastated to think we will never see her again.”
 
* Janet Seidel, jazz singer and pianist, born May 28 1955; died August 8 2017
* First published in The Herald, Wednesday August 30th
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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Brian Kellock Meets the Ear Regulars

The concert I enjoyed most at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival was one I wasn’t reviewing for a newspaper – so, instead of taking notes, I took photos (just on my phone) of the first-ever encounter between top UK pianist Brian Kellock and two of the most regular members of the band that plays weekly at the Ear Inn in New York City – Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet) and Scott Robinson (clarinet & saxophone). They were joined by Dave Blenkhorn (guitar) and Roy Percy (bass). Scroll down beyond the slideshow for the set list …

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Brian Kellock (piano), Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet), Scott Robinson (clarinet, saxophone), David Blenkhorn (guitar) & Roy Percy (bass) at the Piccolo George Square on Monday July 17th, 2017

Hindustan

Tishimingo Blues

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans

Some of These Days

I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs in One Basket

Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You

Lady Be Good

I Got a Right To Sing the Blues

Running’ Wild

Creole Love Call (encore)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Ryan Quigley Quintet

Ryan Quigley Quintet Plays Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Rose Theatre *****
 
Sunday afternoon’s concert by the Ryan Quigley Quintet could not have been better timed. By the closing weekend of the festival, jazz lag is inevitable – and the depressing weather didn’t exactly make venturing out to a gig seem like an appealing prospect. However, the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, played by the dynamic band headed by trumpeter Ryan Quigley, proved to be the perfect antidote; just what was required to blast the cobwebs away. 
 
For 90 minutes, this terrific quintet powered through the bebop repertoire, barely pausing for breath between numbers or coming up for air from their energetic solos. This was thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff – not least because of the excitement generated by the combination of Quigley and alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch in the front line, playing together for the first time in a decade and clearly getting a kick out of doing so. 
 
Even the ballads were energetic. Introducing All The Things You Are after telling the crowd that the opener, Dizzy Atmosphere, had perhaps been too fast, the wry Quigley promised to slow things down – only to produce a ballad so exciting that it induced whoops from the audience midway through. 
 
It wasn’t just the hot, fiery and flamboyant horn playing of Quigley and Kinch that worked the crowd into a frenzy in this rafters-raising concert; the rhythm section – Alan Benzie (piano), Mario Caribe (bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums) was superb as well; Benzie in particular making an impression with his dazzlingly inventive, witty and sophisticated soloing. In all, the ideal high note with which to end the festival.
 
* First published in The Herald on Tuesday July 25th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats

Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats, George Square Spiegeltent ****

“And Now For Something Completely Different” could have been the title of the early evening concert given by Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats on Friday. Unlike any other gig in the jazz festival programme, this hour-long show drew almost exclusively from the early jazz and blues era – and did so from a woman’s point of view, giving a rare airing to songs by such pioneering women as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Leading the charge on Friday and shaking the dust off the early jazz repertoire was Edinburgh-based American singer Alison Affleck, whose informative and sassy introductions to the songs ensured that the audience was receptive and entertained even before she began singing. 
 
Despite her fairly stylised, slightly theatrical mannerisms, Affleck brought an authenticity to such ancient numbers as Downhearted Blues and A Good Man is Hard To Find. Her natural American accent played a big part in this, along with an obvious inclination towards blues-singing. But where she particularly excelled on Friday was as a musical storyteller. St James Infirmary and The Black-Eyed Blues were stand-outs because Affleck didn’t just churn out the lyrics; she used them to bring the characters mentioned in these songs to life, and to create atmosphere and drama. 
 
Of course, she couldn’t have done all this as enjoyably without a good band playing with her; her piano-less quintet – boasting the crack team of Colin Steele (trumpet) and Dick Lee (clarinet) – did a terrific job of keeping the music swinging in suitably hot style.
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Monday July 24th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Remembering Chet – and Gerry

Remembering Chet – and Gerry, Rose Theatre ****
 
The deservedly popular tribute group Remembering Chet – a swinging trio with Iain Ewing (vocals) and Colin Steele (trumpet) reflecting the twin facets of the late, great Chet Baker’s music-making, and Euan Stevenson (piano) accompanying them – has been a staple of the last few Edinburgh Jazz Festivals. For this year’s event, on Saturday lunchtime, the band added a new dimension by bringing baritone saxophonist Billy Fleming in to the mix, thus allowing them to broaden the programme out to include some of the classic numbers Baker recorded with Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s.
 
It certainly gave the group – which, Ewing explained, he had been about to retire – a new lease of life; Fleming’s graceful baritone forming a formidable front line with the ever-eloquent Steele trumpet, notably in their unaccompanied climax to Bernie’s Tune, one of the compositions famously recorded by Baker and Mulligan’s radical piano-less quartet but here benefitting also from Euan Stevenson’s elegant keyboard skills.
 
Ewing, as ever, kept his patter lighthearted and often very funny to offset the melancholy that characterises the greatest hits from Baker’s back catalogue as a singer. As Steele headed offstage to sit out one ballad, Ewing quipped: “Colin’s away to mainline in the toilets. We are a Method Chet Baker tribute band. I, of course, represent Chet Baker after he died.”
 
As for those melancholy songs, Ewing – like Steele on trumpet – did his usual terrific job of stylishly channelling the Baker hallmarks – wistfulness, a soft, gentle tone, simplicity and vulnerability – while avoiding sounding like an impersonator. The many highlights included I Get Along Without You Very Well, which featured an exquisite, Satie-esque accompaniment from Euan Stevenson.
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Monday July 24th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Carol Kidd Sings the Music of Judy Garland

Carol Kidd Sings the Music of Judy Garland, George Square Spiegeltent, Edinburgh ***
 
If there has been one consistent talking point through this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival it has been frustration with its Easyjet method of boarding – making audiences for the tents queue outside; only to be allowed into the venue at the time that the concert is scheduled to start.
 
At Thursday’s Carol Kidd concert, one which was always likely to draw a high proportion of golden oldie ticket holders, observers braced themselves for fisticuffs as a bunch of stick-wielding geriatrics sprang unexpectedly from benches in George Square Gardens and formed a Saga-style stampede into the venue ahead of the punters who had been waiting in the mile-long queue. 
 
Kidd herself referred to the problems of age during an enjoyable 90 minutes in which she evoked the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald by gamely improvising the lyrics she had forgotten, but the main challenge she faced was on ballads – normally her strongest suit. The problem was that her band – pianist Paul Harrison and bassist Mario Caribe – didn’t provide enough colour, depth or texture behind her as she sang such beautiful ballads as The Man Who Got Away. 
 
Kidd has sung Gershwin’s Do It Again in a slowed-down, seductive and suggestive style before and it has been magic, but on Thursday, there was so little going on behind the long, not very varied, notes of the melody that it began to seem funereal rather than sexy. Even her musical Meg Ryan moment on the “oh-oh-oh” failed to relight the fire …
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Saturday July 22nd

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Eliot Murray Big Band

Eliot Murray Big Band: 1947 Tommy Sampson and Edwin Holland, West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent ****
 
It may have been the jazz festival show with the longest title but that title still doesn’t explain what Tuesday lunchtime’s West Princes Street Gardens gig was all about. The short-lived big band formed by Edinburgh-born trumpeter Tommy Sampson (who died in 2008 at the age of 90) just after the Second World War is considered by many to be one of the best British big bands of the era. 
 
Sampson, who became known as “Scotland’s King of Swing,” founded the 17—piece band for the 1947 season at the El Dorado ballroom in Leith, and, playing arrangements by Sampson and his right-hand man Edwin Holland, it was an instant hit and soon made a big impact on the British music scene, thanks to numerous tours and BBC broadcasts.  
 
Just as the Sampson orchestra saw the likes of future international star Joe Temperley pass through its ranks, so Tuesday’s concert, under the direction of the affable Eliot Murray, a longtime associate of Sampson, boasted the cream of the current crop of Scottish jazz musicians (including Laura Macdonald, Konrad Wiszniewski and Allon Beauvoisin), several of whom are having a busy festival juggling different musical personalities for different projects. 
 
Martin Kershaw, for example, was last seen playing the part of Lee Konitz in the Birth of the Cool concert at the weekend, but on Tuesday he slipped elegantly into 1940s swing mode, playing some hot, sweet clarinet a la Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. His storming solo on Herman’s Apple Honey added an extra level of excitement to what was already a sensational number.
 
* First published in The Herald, Thursday July 20th

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