Sinatra – The Man and His Music, George Square Spiegeltent *
Dear oh dear. It’s just as well the Sinatra centenary show which opened the jazz festival was such a swellegant, elegant, five-star affair – because the one which closed it on Sunday was an embarrassment and one which would undoubtedly have haemorrhaged more of its audience had walking out not involved walking into a monsoon.
A Sinatra who can’t sing? Check. A Sinatra who doesn’t swing? Check. A Sinatra who forgets the lyrics to I’ve Got You Under My Skin? You’ve guessed it. Playing Ol’ Blue Eyes, actor Sandy Batchelor certainly knew how to work a sharp suit but that was about the extent of his Sinatra repertoire.
This was an entirely superficial portrayal of a complex character who came over as one-dimensional and charisma-deficient. Not only were there factual inaccuracies (it was Green’s Playhouse in which Sinatra performed in Ayr, not the Gaiety Theatre); worse there were misrepresentations of him – you only had to go home and watch his Oscar acceptance speech on YouTube to see that portraying him as bolshie and arrogant rather than really very appreciative was inaccurate.
Certainly, much of the audience seemed to fall under the spell of something (maybe the band) – but the only non-grimace-like smile in evidence as Batchelor slaughtered song after song was on the face of his father, Dave, who wrote and directed this production and led the band on trombone.
Little wonder then, when we got to the announcement of Sinatra’s first retirement, a shout of “Way-hey!” went up from the back of the tent …
* First published in The Scotsman, Friday July 31st
Kaiser Bill Invented Jazz!, Queen’s Hall, Tuesday July 22nd ****
It could all have gone so spectacularly wrong: a concert based on an unlikely – but catchily titled – premise featuring a band of musicians whose names weren’t available last week, plus a music director who only arrived in Blighty a day or two earlier. Over its 36-year history, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival has notched up its share of casualties when trying to pull off extravaganzas like this – but Tuesday night’s turned out to be a victory, even if it didn’t quite prove its point about the Kaiser being a jazzer.
The concert was the brainchild of trombonist Dave Batchelor and it’s to him and, undoubtedly, to his experience as a BBC radio producer that credit should go for the unusually stylish presentation, which blended expertly selected readings (by actors/singers Crawford Logan and Sandy Batchelor), with music from the years preceding and during the war being played by a seven-piece band and accompanied by entertaining period dancing. While all this was going on, images of everything from sheet music of the songs being performed to photographs of the most famous “madams” from New Orleans’ celebrated Storyville, the undisputed birthplace of jazz, were beamed on to a screen above the stage.
It went down a storm with the audience which clearly got a kick out of the rare opportunity to hear music exclusively from this often neglected period – not just early jazz but the popular music of the day; a beautiful duet of John McCormack’s First World War hit Somewhere A Voice is Calling – performed by Sandy Batchelor and pianist Conal Fowkes – was particularly affecting, inter-cut as it was with a moving reading of a poignant Oswald Sitwell memoir.
First published in The Herald, Thursday July 24th