Review: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Yes, yes, I know this isn’t a jazz music review – and this is a jazz blog. But .. I also happen to know, from years in their company, that jazz musicians (at least some of the very best on both sides of the Atlantic) seem to have a penchant for PG Wodehouse – so I’m assuming that a similar proportion of jazz fans do too, and may be interested in this hit show which is currently touring the UK. Oh, and Bix Beiderbecke and Reinhardt/Grappelli feature on the soundtrack…

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Theatre Royal, Glasgow *****

It’s always a gamble going to see cherished characters being portrayed onstage or screen, but fellow Wodehouse worshippers can rest assured that the Jeeves & Wooster production which opened at the Theatre Royal on Monday, following its West End run, is nothing short of wonderful.

John Gordon Sinclair and Joel Sams (replacing James Lance) star as the eponymous butler and master, in an uproarious caper beautifully and lovingly adapted by the Goodale Brothers from The Code of the Woosters, PG Wodehouse’s 1938 novel. In the play, Bertie Wooster enlists the help of the multi-talented Jeeves and his Aunt Dahlia’s butler, Seppings (Robert Goodale, yup one of the writers), to help him put on his own play based on the rummy tale of what happened when he was summoned to Totleigh Towers to steal an antique silver cow creamer from his uncle’s rival collector. Or something like that .. the plot matters several jots less than the delicious, delightful dialogue and the deliriously funny performances from the trio of actors – two of whom play multiple parts.

John Gordon Sinclair proved himself a fantastic physical comedian, not so much in the Jeeves role, which has to be understated, but more when Jeeves took on the persona of the fish-faced newt-fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle, a quivering, myopic, lovable geek. Sinclair’s body seemed to do Mexican waves when he was in nervous Gussie mode. In all, Sinclair played four characters, while Robert Goodale did an equally marvellous job bouncing between Seppings, Aunt Dahlia, Roderick Spode and Butterfield the butler (who was surely inspired by Eric Blore’s immortal Bates in Top Hat). As for Joel Sams, he made a terrific Bertie. An utter delight; perfect Perfect Nonsense, in fact.

* First published in The Herald, Thursday November 27th

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Cyrille Aimée, Dundee Jazz Festival

Cyrille Aimée Duo, Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, Wednesday November 19th ****

Leave a comment

Filed under Concert reviews

The Gypsy Jazz Queen

Cyrille AimeeThis time last year, you had to be on the New York jazz scene to have heard of Cyrille Aimée, the young French singer who makes her UK debut at the Dundee and London jazz festivals this week and who recently released her joyful debut album. But that was before a certain Stephen Sondheim personally selected her to sing his songs with a jazz band and Curtis Stigers invited her to duet with him on his new album – et voila, a nouvelle star was born.

It all sounds too good to be true – but even more Hollywood movie-sounding is the story of how Aimée came to be gypsy jazz’s new poster girl in the first place. This part of her CV involves tales of her climbing out of her bedroom window and defying her parents to hang out and make music with the gypsies.

Aimée grew up in Samois-sur-Seine, a small town near Fontainebleau famous as the birthplace of the original gypsy jazz star, Django Reinhardt, and now the location of an annual festival in his honour. Consequently, she was exposed to gypsy jazz from a very young age but it wasn’t, she says, the music she heard there which attracted her to the gypsies; it was the other way around.

She explains: “It was only when I got to know the gypsies that I was drawn to the music – because I only understood the music when I had got to know the gypsies. I was attracted to their way of life and their spirit and how free they are and how they live every day like it’s their last.”

Was this quite different to the way she had been brought up? “No, not at all. It’s just different to the way that most people are, because they never went to school so they haven’t been taught how to behave, to put your hand up to speak or to ask to go to the bathroom. They’re kind of primitive in a way and they actually reminded me of my mum’s side of the family – she’s from the Dominican Republic. I felt at home with them.”

From the age of 14, Aimée spent as much time as she could with the travellers who came to town every year for the festival. “I would spend time with them after school and during the summer holidays and I missed them so much when they left. I would count the days for them to come back the next year.

“My school friends didn’t really understand it. The gypsies don’t let just anyone in the campsite and in the caravans so it was really my own thing. Some of my school friends didn’t even know who Django Reinhardt was!”

So how did Aimée manage to get in with them if they don’t just welcome anybody? “Well, I was up town to get a baguette in the boulangerie, and this gypsy girl was looking at my bike a lot – she really liked it – and she asked if she could borrow it. And, to her surprise, I said yes – I think mostly they get ‘no’. (There’s a lot of prejudice.) And when I said ‘yes’, she called her four other cousins over, so there were five of them on the bike, and I hopped on too, and we all went down the main road through town,  which is very steep. We went down that hill, all six of us on the bike – and after that we were friends.”

Initially, Aimée’s parents were not happy about her spending time at the gypsy camp. “The town townspeople would tell them: ‘I saw your daughter with gypsies – be careful.’ So I would get grounded. But I would still go out my window and cross the back yard and cross the forest to go see them.” Luckily, Aimée’s parents came round. “First of all they realised there was nothing they could do and second of all they understood the kind of people they were and their music, and now they’re as much friends as we are.”

And it was thanks to her new friendships that Aimée’s talent as a singer became apparent. “At first, when I was with the gypsies, I started to play guitar and then one day one of them asked me to learn the song Sweet Sue because they knew that I spoke a little English. I sang it in front of the whole family, the gypsy family, around the camp fire and when I saw everyone smiling and how it had made everyone feel, I realised that’s the feeling I wanted to spread all over. So I kind of let go of the guitar and started singing more.”

At the age of 19, Aimée (who is now 30) applied to appear on Star Academy, France’s equivalent of The X Factor, not expecting for a minute that she would be one of 16 contestants picked out of 5000 applicants. “I sent them a video because I had just gotten a video camera and I thought it was a fun idea – then I got called back every time.”

Just before filming was about to begin, Aimée – whose picture was already on magazine covers to publicise the show – was given a contract to sign. At which point, she freaked at the lack of freedom she would have – especially over song choices. “I said: ‘No, thank you,’ and I went to the Dominican Republic! I had so much to learn, and I was just falling in love with jazz, and Star Academy was not the place for jazz!” Her story became something of a cause celebre.

From the Dominican Republic, it was a short hop to New York where she studied music and began gigging in 2009. These days she is living the touring musician’s life, seldom home in Brooklyn and almost always on the road; a 21stCentury jazz gypsy.

* Cyrille Aimée plays the Gardyne Theatre on Wednesday at 8pm. Visit www.jazzdundee.co.uk for information, and phone 01382 434940 for tickets.

First published in The Scotsman, Monday November 17th

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Profiles

Carol Kidd: The Art of Survival

Carol Kidd picCarol Kidd MBE may be the finest jazz vocalist Scotland has ever produced, but in times of crisis, it has been painting which has saved her – rather than singing. The ebullient, pint-sized Glaswegian, now resident in Spain, is back in her home town this month to celebrate her 70th birthday and give a trio of concerts. Oh, and to show her paintings to the public for the first time, with an exhibition and workshops at iota in Glasgow’s west end.

So how did the singer who was hand-picked by her idol, Frank Sinatra, to open his legendary Glasgow 1990 concert for him and who was accorded superstar status in the Far East due to her chart success become an exhibiting artist. “Artist?!” splutters Kidd. “There’s no way I’d call myself that! When I think about people who’ve been to art school and university, I wouldn’t dream of calling myself an artist – but the things that I’m doing are straight from the heart. That’s the only way I can put it.”

Kidd’s first brush with, er, the brush came in 2005 – when she was at her lowest ebb in the aftermath of the sudden death of her longterm partner, and manager, John and in the midst of a court case over his estate. Shuddering, she recalls: “I was a maniac. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was a mess. You would come into my flat in Glasgow and have to walk over bank statements and papers. I really was so black about everything.

“Then, one day, my daughter Carol came to my flat with an easel, canvases, brushes, oils – everything I needed – and she said: ‘Mum, you’re dying before my eyes. You were always good at drawing so, there, go for it.’ I’ve been drawing since I was child. I used to draw the Carol painting - Coleendogs, when we had dogs, and the kids – but always in pencil. So I was always into drawing but never took it that step beyond that and actually painted anything. I didn’t have a clue.”

Nevertheless, with nothing to lose, Kidd gave it a go. “ Just putting out a bit of paint, getting a brush, putting the canvas up, and putting that first stroke on the canvas were huge steps .. and once I got an idea in my head, I was off and running. It saved me – because what it did was it blocked out everything else, because I was so focused. It really was therapy.”

Relocating to Majorca in 2007 – “it gave me the tranquility I need” – Kidd continued and developed her painting. She works with oils, and paints mostly from memory or from her imagination – everything from horses to trees to portraits.

Almost two years ago, the singer was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a lumpectomy and a course of radiotherapy. The subsequent hormone replacement medication she was put on produced awful side effects in her – and she just recently took the decision to stop it. “I have had a year and a half of hell, truly hell. I’ve had no energy, and just wanted to crawl under the sheets and sleep. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And the depression. I just wanted to throw myself under the first bus that came along. These were side effects of this pill. I took myself off them two months ago, and I’m like a new person. I’m about to try another hormone replacement therapy but if it throws me back to the way I was a year ago, then I’ll be coming off that too.”

Thankfully, she had her art to turn to – something she could lose herself in, as and when she had the energy. “That’s twice it’s done it for me. This time, it was a case of ‘Right, okay, I can’t do anything else. I can’t go out, and I cannae go and sing. So I’ll carry on with my painting. And then I started doing things that were a wee step above what I’d done before, and having more confidence, and that’s when the gallery became interested. When they saw them, they said: ‘These are good, let’s go for an exhibition.’ And at that point I was still unwell but I kept painting and painting and painting.

“I’ve done all sorts of things. I did this beautiful woman that I met when I was having my treatment, and she was having chemo so she had no hair, but, my god, her face was outstanding. She had the most gorgeous blue eyes. And I had to come home with her picture in my Carol painting - Billy Chead.”

One face that Kidd painted from memory – even though she could have referred to photos online or in the press – was that of Billy Connolly. That painting has already sold, she says proudly. “It was bought by a friend in Glasgow who saw an early version of it and said: ‘I don’t care what it costs. I want it.’ I said: ‘You mean I’ll need to do it again?! I’ve just scrapped it!’ It took me four months – because I kept changing it, and it got to the stage where I had to scrap it and start again, because he’s got such a complicated face and you’ve got to put an expression in.

“I had to do him. Why? Because of what’s happening with him at the moment, he was in my head so much and I felt for him so, so much. I know Billy and it was horrifying to read all that stuff about him – I couldn’t believe it – and then Robin Williams died, and to imagine how he would feel about that because they were like brothers… I just felt I had to paint him.”

Kidd first met Connolly in the late 1970s, at a party at the home of another much-loved Scottish jazz singer, Fionna Duncan. “I’ll never forget,” she says cackling. “He walked in the door with a great big long fur coat on, and the first thing he did was he took off the fur coat, threw it in the corner, and said: ‘Stay Rover!’ And I thought who is this man? We got on like a house on fire. He was so funny.”

While she’s back in Glasgow, Kidd has three duo concerts with top pianist Brian Kellock, with whom she recorded a live album last summer – but her chat today is all about her love of painting. Does she feel more excited about the art stuff than singing these days?

“No. No, definitely not. I’ll tell you what, I feel very, very lucky that at the age I’m at now I have something to fall back on, if it gets to the stage where I can’t sing any more – you know, if I can’t sing the way that’s good enough for my standards – then I would have to give it up. I couldn’t do a Frank Sinatra thing and just keep going on and on and on. So I feel really lucky that I’ve got this other string to my bow, and it’s something that can go on without the stress of going and doing concerts – although I don’t want to give up singing. I’ll keep going till I know it’s time to stop.”

* Carol Kidd’s paintings will be exhibited at iota, Unlimited Studios, Hyndland Street, Glasgow on October 24th & 25th from 12-6pm; Carol Kidd & Brian Kellock perform at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh on October 30th, at Wild Cabaret, Glasgow on November 2nd and at The Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock on November 9th. Their new CD, Carol Kidd Live With Brian Kellock Present Cole Porter will be released on October 23rd.

First published in Scotland on Sunday, October 19th

Leave a comment

Filed under Profiles

Review: Curtis Stigers, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Curtis Stigers, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thursday October 9th ***

On Thursday, the versatile American singer Curtis Stigers returned to Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall for the first time since March 2012 – but it was a different show to the string of duo concerts he has given in the more intimate venue of the city’s Dirty Martini club in the intervening two and a half years, or this year’s full band gigs in Ronnie Scott’s in London. The cosy, confessorial chat and witty banter of the smaller venue concerts were less in evidence, but Stigers made the most of having his quartet onstage with him to ramp up the energy and the volume – with not altogether pleasing results for some of the audience.

Stigers is a terrific live performer, very personable and a great storyteller – in speech and song. He doesn’t coast; he invariably packs an emotional punch with his often gut-wrenching delivery of lyrics. But, for much of Thursday’s show, it was nigh-on impossible to hang on his every word, as one would usually. Why? Because every other word was obliterated by overpowering drums and bass. Not only that but – to further distract the would-be (and usually) rapt listener – the wooden pews in the “good seats” near the sound desk were shaken whenever the bass and drums were over-loud. Oh, and there was also a near punch-up in the stalls between a heckler and his own heckler.

None of this is any reflection on the musicians, but it certainly marked the concert out as considerably less of a treat than expected.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday October 13th

I

I Keep Goin’ Back to Joe’s

I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now

That’s All

You’re All That Matters To Me

Hooray For Love

Valentine’s Day

Things Have Changed

II

Love Is Here To Stay

You’ve Got the Fever

The Way You Look Tonight

My Babe

I Wonder Why

Jealous Guy

You Don’t Know What Love Is

Leave a comment

Filed under Concert reviews

Songs for Soppy Cynics (and Swinging Lovers)

CurtisCurtis Stigers wears his heart on his record sleeve. The versatile American singer who, two years ago, released his darkest album to date – a collection, as he put it, “of sad songs or songs about sex” – has gone to the other extreme with his new CD Hooray for Love, an all-out, old-fashioned celebration of romance. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking “Ooh, Curtis must be happy” as soon as I saw the the title of the new album – so is the Stigers who comes to Edinburgh indeed as happy and loved-up as the record suggests?

“Well, yeah,” say Stigers who, for all his drawl speaks ten to the dozen. “That was the whole idea. I set out to make an album that mirrored where I am as a person as well as the last record mirrored where I was when I made it. And that record was obviously f***ing depressed.  And so I felt like it was time both for me and my fans for the antidote so I went looking for ten beautiful love songs. I really wanted to make an album of love songs; an album that was just unabashedly, unapologetically romantic.

Whereas Let’s Go Out, the previous CD, featured contemporary singer-songwriter material, this new album comprises swinging, jazz takes of classics from the Great American Songbook alongside some original songs which sound as if they might also have been written in the same era. “I threw out a lot of the rules I had made for myself, like ‘Don’t record songs that have been recorded a million times’ and ‘Never record a song that Sinatra is known for’.”

Stigers’s joyful experiences singing with the John Wilson Orchestra in the landmark 2010 MGM prom and subsequent movie-themed concerts inspired the inclusion of the a couple of the songs – Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight (“the sweetest and, I think, one of the smartest love songs ever written”) and the Gershwins’ Love is Here To Stay.  Performed in a catchy, loose, simple arrangement reminiscent of small-group, 1950s jazz recordings featuring the likes of Harry “Sweets” Edison and Ben Webster, it’s the opening track, and it sets the intimate, laid-back mood of the album. “Ah,” agrees Stigers, “that era is definitely what we were going for, and one of the two or three albums that we really looked at and I kept at the back of my mind was the After Midnight sessions with Nat ‘King’ Cole – that has Sweets on it. It was Nat basically coming back to the small group, swinging sort of thing that he had stepped away from to become a pop star.”

“It seemed like the thing to do – to take a step back towards happy and towards a little more, I guess, of a mainstream jazz approach. As well as the King Cole album, I was thinking about those early Doris Day records before she got too pop, too cute and smarmy; those great pop records from the 1950s where it was fantastic jazz musicians playing great songs with a great singer, and there were solos but they weren’t long solos. That was the other thing: I really wanted to pay attention to the song first, and whilst there are some solos, I really stood on my musicians; I was grinding my heel into them as they were playing, saying: ‘No – simpler!’, ‘No – closer to the melody!’, ‘Let the song do the work!’ ”

It’s not only the mood and material of Hooray for Love which are reminiscent of those earlier albums; the sound evokes that era as well. Stigers explains: “When I mixed the record I really tried to not go for modern hi fidelity but go for more of an old-fashioned fidelity. There’s a difference between the way jazz records sounded in the 1950s to the way they sound now. I didn’t want it to sound retro; I just wanted it to sound cosier and more intimate. Jazz records these days you can hear the drums so well. You can hear every texture of the drums… I don’t really give-a-damn what the drums sound like – I want them to keep the beat; that’s what drums do. And I could be thrown in jazz guy prison for saying that but the truth is that’s not the issue with an album with a singer and great songs. The issue is the great songs and the voicings – and everything else is there to support that. So that’s what we were really going for.”

The mood really couldn’t be more of a contrast to the last record or the repertoire we’ve heard in Stigers concerts in recent years: he’s gone from the cynical to the soppy. He’s come out of a painful divorce and found a new love, and he can’t hide his delight. Even the title Hooray for Love came from the sign-off on an email from a friend congratulating him on his new romance. Thankfully, his performance at Ronnie Scott’s earlier this year showed he hasn’t completely sold out on his fellow cynics – he still sang Dylan’s Things Have Changed and other songs from the last album.

Chuckling, Stigers points out: “I’m still cynical. The fact that I’m a romantic is the reason that my cynicsm is so thick. Let me explain that. I think because I open my heart – as the song says ‘I fall in love too easily, I fall in love too fast’. And that’s who I am. I believe in love, I believe in romance. And when you get your heart stomped on, as an open-hearted romantic, it’s pretty easy to take on a defensive edge. But underneath it all, I love love songs and I love love. So this was my chance to show the non-cynical side.”

And just to highlight the fact that the sad cynic is still there, he has concluded the album with You Don’t Know What Love Is, the bleak, Chet Baker-associated ballad which has been a bit of a showstopper at Stigers gigs in recent years.  “I just couldn’t help myself! It’s a love song but it’s a dark song. It’s a song about love that one way or another can’t be fulfilled. It’s a sad song. It also seemed like that sort of cautionary tale at the end, you know? Love, love, love, love, love – but don’t forget what might happen!”

* Curtis Stigers plays the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on October 9. Hooray for Love (Concord Records) is out now. For tour dates visit www.curtisstigers.com

First published in The Herald, Friday October 3, 2014

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Profiles, Uncategorized

Review: Tony Bennett, Glasgow, 2014

Tony Bennett, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, September 9th, 2014 *****

“We’ll have what he’s having” was undoubtedly what was going through the minds of the adoring punters who packed out the Concert Hall on Tuesday night to witness living legend Tony Bennett strut his singing stuff at the age of 88.

Anyone who didn’t hear him on the same stage two years ago might have expected that this concert would be one of those senior citizen specials in which much of the applause after each song is actually a reward for making it through to the end without keeling over. With Tony Bennett, the standing ovations that routinely followed his often energetic – the Tony twirl is undoubtedly his signature move – performances were purely down to the extraordinary affection that the audience has for him and the fact that he is still singing wonderfully.

Of course, great care has been taken in the way the programme (almost identical to 2012’s) has been constructed, and Bennett is adept at pacing himself. On songs, such as Maybe Next Time, which are going to have a big, belted-out finale (and boy, can Bennett still belt them out), he holds back for most of the number before socking it to his stunned listeners.

Dazzling as those grand finales were; on Tuesday it was the quieter, more intimate songs which were the most memorable; in particular Once Upon a Time, a ballad which is perfect and poignant for a singer of his age to be performing, and one which highlighted the fact that he is a poet with song: his reverence for the lyrics – the words and their meaning – enable him to paint a picture and tell a story in a way that many singers fail miserably to do.

* First published in The Herald, Thursday September 11th, 2014

Watch What Happens

They All Laughed

Maybe This Time

I Got Rhythm

Cold, Cold Heart

Sing You Sinners

Steppin’ Out With My Baby

But Beautiful

The Way You Look Tonight

Just in Time

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The Good Life

Once Upon a Time

Shadow of Your Smile

One For My Baby

For Once In My Life

The Best Is Yet To Come

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

I’m Old-Fashioned

Who Cares?

Smile

When You’re Smiling

Fly Me To the Moon

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Concert reviews