Tag Archives: Todd Gordon

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: BBC Big Band Centenary Concert

The BBC Big Band Sinatra Centenary Concert, Festival Theatre *****

That’s us halfway into a year of Sinatra centenary concerts and it seems unlikely that, to quote the great man himself, the best is yet to come. Why? Because Friday night’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival one was a stonker: all the big hits (well, almost all the biggest hits – there was a bit of My Way lobbying going on in the foyer post-gig), sung by a diverse trio of top vocalists, and accompanied by the sensational BBC Big Band playing mostly the much-loved arrangements familiar from the records. Hell, there was even a singalong opportunity.

Everybody involved in this Sinatra-celebrating enterprise seemed to be having a terrific time getting a chance to sing their hero’s praises and plunder his vast, five-decade repertoire. Edinburgh’s Todd Gordon opened the proceedings with a classy, swinging set which underlined that while he may have absorbed many of Sinatra’s mannerisms, he has his own, distinctive, voice. Mind you, on New York, New York he also had the voices of the capacity audience to contend with – and then the challenge of regaining a monopoly on the singing duties afterwards.

Jacqui Dankworth bridged the gap between Todd Gordon’s set and the second half with a selection that included a raunchy Teach Me Tonight. But it was Curtis Stigers who really got the audience’s juices going partly thanks to the fact that he had all the plum songs. He sprang onstage to Come Fly With Me and dished up one sensational Sinatra hit after another. If Gordon embodied the classy side of Sinatra; Stigers provided the swagger – and the one-liners. “I prefer to introduce this next one in your native tongue,” he said as he announced “Dinnae Worry ‘Boot Me”…..

* First published in The Herald, Monday July 20th

I

All Or Nothing At All

Todd Gordon

* Where Or When

* Big Bad Leroy Brown

* Chicago (Is My Kind of Town)

* It Was a Very Good Year

* The Tender Trap

* New York, New York

* Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – Let’s Do It

Jacqui Dankworth

* Come Rain Or Come Shine

* Corcovado

* For Once In My Life

* In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

* Teach Me Tonight

with Todd Gordon – They Can’t Take That Away From Me

II

* In the Still of the Night

* The Song Is You

Curtis Stigers

* Come Fly With Me

* I’ve Got You Under My Skin

* Don’t Worry About Me

* You Make Me Feel So Young

* Fly Me to the Moon

* I Get A Kick Out of You

* The Summer Wind

* One For My Baby

Curtis Stigers, Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – The Lady is a Tramp

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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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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: We Love Louis

 We Love Louis, Queen’s Hall, Saturday July 24th ****

Singers Clairdee & Todd Gordon

Louis Armstrong was – as singer Clairdee pointed out at the tribute concert at the Queen’s Hall on Saturday – the first great jazz innovator and an influence on every player who followed him. But he was also, as Saturday’s show highlighted, one of the great pop singers of the 20th century, who sang songs by all the greats, was a beloved entertainer and always injected fun into the proceedings.

This side of him was brilliantly evoked by a generous programme which was stuffed with tunes from throughout Armstrong’s long career. Some – Jeepers Creepers, Basin Street Blues and Hello Dolly, for example – were more strongly associated with him than others (Love Is Here To Stay and Autumn in New York don’t leap to mind when his name is mentioned).

Nevertheless, the spirit of Satchmo was certainly in evidence throughout – in the All Stars-like line-up (a front line of trumpeter Leroy Jones, trombonist Katja Toivola and clarinettist/saxophonist Martin Foster) – and in the easy-going, good-natured rapport onstage, especially between singers Todd Gordon and the afore-mentioned Clairdee, a honey-voiced American, whose Scottish debut this was. Their duets from the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong records were highlights of the night.

Indeed, with her show-stopping interpretation of Summertime – an elegantly restrained reading of the classic Gershwin ballad – and her gorgeous They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Clairdee probably guaranteed a few more bums on seats for her next jazz festival gig on Tuesday.

(First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 25th)

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Sinatra @ Ibrox: A Night to Remember

Twenty years ago, my hometown of Glasgow celebrated being named a European City of Culture. One of the most eagerly anticipated events in the city’s cultural calendar that memorable year was a concert by the man who was arguably the greatest singer of the 20th century – Frank Sinatra. From the beginning of Glasgow’s year as a City of Culture, a visit by Ol’ Blue Eyes had been dangled tantalisingly before Glaswegians. And when it finally happened, on July 10, 1990, it proved to be a night to remember.

Scots jazz singer Carol Kidd and her London-based trio had been asked to be the support band after Sinatra’s “people” came to a concert and asked for all her CDs to be sent to the man himself. Kidd and her pianist, fellow Glaswegian David Newton, were in Ibrox throughout the day.

“We turned up quite early,” says Newton, “and watched the stand in the middle of the stadium being built, and saw these amazing sound guys sorting out what was the best sound I’ve ever heard. I mean, when the band started playing, it was like listening to a record.”

Kidd was also already there when Sinatra “breezed in” wearing a baseball cap and the famous bomber jacket with “The Guv” written on the back. “His soundcheck was four words of a song – Come Fly With Me. Then he walked off.”

Newton nods: “It sounded immaculate, so he said: ‘I’m outta here’. And off he went.”

Kidd played five numbers which, as Newton remembers, “went down a storm”. The atmosphere was charged. “A lot of people in the audience hadn’t heard him in such a long time and, of course, he had been the soundtrack to their lives. You could feel the excitement building.”

Neither Kidd nor Newton was aware at this point that the atmosphere was also charged because of trouble brewing. Outside the stadium, hundreds of fans clutching the most expensive tickets couldn’t get in; and inside – in certain areas – confusion reigned over where people were to sit. The stooshie over seating arrangements, which had been changed after people had bought tickets, would rumble on for days.

On a high as she came off, Kidd saw Sinatra arriving at the marquee beside the stage in a golf buggy. “He came upstairs into the marquee where he had his Jack Daniels and his cigarette. We shook hands very, very briefly while somebody fixed his tie. He was totally gorgeous,” she says categorically. “Drop-dead gorgeous. Even at 74 – because it’s in the eyes. And it was in his eyes. Plus he was in performance mode. At the soundcheck he’d been breezy and laidback, but by this point he was switched on and ready to go.”

When Sinatra walked out on to that Ibrox stage – at 8.10pm on July 10, 1990, 37 years after his previous visit to Glasgow – the audience went mad. Edinburgh-based singer and jazz promoter Todd Gordon says: “I had never experienced anything like the roar of that audience. It went right through your body.”

For 83 minutes – David Belcher, reviewing for The Herald, timed it – Sinatra held the audience in the palm of his hand with hit after hit, starting with Come Fly With Me. “When it came to My Way – forget it!” says Kidd. “He didn’t have to sing. He just stood there and the audience sang it back to him.” Belcher wrote: “His voice was amazing, for a man of 34, let alone 74.”

“Nevertheless,” says journalist Allan Brown, “for me, the music was the least of that evening. Something else entirely has stayed in my mind. There were maybe more than 15,000 of us there, yet the angle of the stand and the proximity of the stage created an atmosphere that was strangely intimate. You had the sense that, were you to rise from your seat and wave, you could easily attract Sinatra’s attention. And many did. The flavour of that night was one I have never experienced since: a blend of high devotion and downright gallusness, like a bingo night in the Sistine Chapel.”

There was a massive outpouring of affection – and emotion – from the generally geriatric audience. Newton noticed folk clutching bottles of whisky which they were clearly hoping to pass down to the stage, while Jeanette Belcher remembers the poignant sight of the two old ladies next to her “sobbing quietly and without any great drama” through the first few songs.

Gordon had taken his mother along to Ibrox that July night. “On the way through from Edinburgh I began to have severe apprehensions about taking her because she kept saying, ‘He was at his best in the 1950s’. I thought: ‘Oh God, she thinks he’s past it.’

“However, within about two numbers my mum, along with most of the rest of the stadium, was up on her feet between songs. There was something quite magical about the night.” Sinatra himself was visibly moved by the warmth of the audience. So much so that he not only treated Glasgow to a rare encore; he also promised he’d be back.

From the wings, Kidd and Newton watched most of the show, tears streaming down their faces as Sinatra gingerly stepped down from the stage to shake hands with the disabled concert-goers stationed at the front of the audience. The Herald’s Jack Webster wrote: “The sight of Frank Sinatra strolling along the Ibrox track with a radio-mike in his hands and singing Strangers In The Night will remain one of my richest and most abiding memories.”

Then came what David Newton calls “The Moment” – when Sinatra, back up on stage, poured himself a cup of tea and sat on the stool next to a table. Newton recalls: “The spotlight came down, the place went dark and all you could see was a man in a tux. He lit a cigarette – the whole place applauded – sipped his tea and began to sing Angel Eyes. And he turned a football stadium into a small nightclub. I don’t know if anyone else on the planet could have done that. It was remarkable.”

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A swell party

Daryl Sherman, the Manhattan-based singer and pianist who made her Glasgow debut in the City Halls Recital Room on Sunday, must have tripped back to her hotel a very happy lady. Why? Because she had the most enthusiastic response to her performance that I think I’ve seen at that venue.

Sherman has a girlish, Blossom Dearie-esque voice which is not every jazz fan’s cup of Earl Grey (it didn’t do anything for the aficionada sitting next to me – at least at the outset) , but she also has impeccable taste – which is a rare attribute these days.

Not only was her choice of material first-class but the atmosphere she created also distinguished her gig from most others. It was relaxed and fun, but there was no sense that the concert had been thrown together – as can often be the case when a visiting soloist throws his or her lot in with local musicians.

Mind you, Sherman had selected the ideal local musicians for her easygoing style and penchant for the less  well-thumbed pages of the Great American Songbook. She really couldn’t have asked for better accompaniment than she got from bassist Roy Percy and, especially, the great guitarist Nigel Clark – both of whom gamely, and stylishly, joined her on a string of songs which they had probably never had call to play before.

Flying Down to Rio (from the Astaire-Rogers movie of the same name), Getting To Know You (The King and I) and Jeepers Creepers (from Goin’ Places)  were all ensemble treats featuring Sherman’s vocal and pianistic talents.

On How Insensitive, she stepped into Carol Kidd’s shoes by duetting memorably with Nigel Clark. The results were sublime – Sherman’s vocals (which sounded deeper when she was singing in what I assume was Portuguese) and Clark’s sensitive guitar playing were a perfect match.

As were the vocal duets with guest artist Todd Gordon – playful versions of Fly Me to the Moon and Manhattan, both dished up with rarely-performed verses.

By the end of the night, Sherman had made herself more than a few new fans – and I think you could safely say she’ll be back.

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