Q: “Why can’t jazz singers get through the door?”
A: “Either because they can’t find the key, or because they don’t know when to come in.”
But, joking aside, London has a thriving open mic scene. There are an increasing number of people trying to reelease their inner Sarah Vaughan (above). And all credit to the people involved organizing the events : they are all very supportive and also very experienced.
This weekend – Sunday May 3rd in the evening at the Vortex- sees the biggest celebration of the open mic scene, the annual Angela Carrington Awards gig.
Angela Carrington was a stalwart of the open mic scene. She sang, she ran the door for one of the gigs, and was much-liked. She passed away in 2005, and the awards are a wonderful expression of a supportive, selfless community where newbie singers are helped to gain confidence, and to progress.
The best guide to the London open mic scene is at Chris Legee’s site Open Mic Jazz London. Legee, originally from Boston on the Eastern seaboard of the US, has been running open mic nights in London for 13 years. The site for her own monthly night, at the Nelson in Stanhope Street near Warren Street station has a good beginners guide
The three people whom I spoke to who run open mic nights – Romy Summers at the Vortex, Sarah Liddell at the RamJam in Kingston, and Legee herself, point to a similar trend: the numbers have been growing.
Each of these monthly nights regularly has as many- sometimes a few more – singers than can be accommodated in an evening. Which means 25-30 singers. Liddell says her numbers have doubled in a couple of years. “Two years ago, people might have got two songs in. Now there’s no chance of that.” The gigs at the Nelson, the Vortex and the RamJam welcome all comers. It pays to get there early, and to get your name down.
Paul Pace at the Spice of Life runs a session, but it’s different. It is by invitation. It’s a listening gig. The others are more strictly for the benefit of the singers themselves.
Summers from the Vortex – like Liddell and Legee a singer herself- is thoughtful about the motivations of the singers who get involved: “singing in public is about conquering nerves, it’s therapeutic, it has a social aspect, by doing somethig which is not mundane, and with a top professional trio behind them they know they have a chance to sing the best they’ve ever sung. Accompanied on a Steinway.”
I also spoke to Shireen Francis , a professional singer with huge energy and experience. She is also headlining with a set at the Carrington Awards. She presented LondonJazz with a comprehensive range of tips. Indeed anyone thinking of getting involved would do well to email Francis to have a consultation lesson .
Here are Francis’ do’s and dont’s :
-Don’t bring music sheets that go over several pages, it doesn’t usually go down too well with the accompanist
-Do invest in some good clear charts. If you don’t know where to get them from speak to other singers and ask them where they got theirs from.
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-Don’t bring songs that are too obscure, if you do, again make sure you have a clear chart, with melody and ideally lyrics, to make it easier for the accompanist.
-Do bring a choice of ballad or swing/latin for variety for the evening. You may be asked to do an up number rather than a ballad as the person before you may be doing a ballad or vice versa.
-If you have to use lyrics on stage (a fairly new song) make sure you have worked well with the song beforehand as glueing yourself to the lyrics can make you sound hesitant and look unconfident and the spirit of the performance will be lost. Also it makes it hard work for the accompanist as there is little energy for him/her to work with.
-Don’t give long solos, i.e. to all band members (if you are fortunate enough to have a band).
Likewise don’t sing songs with lots of verses. Many of the open mic events have so many singers attending nowadays and there are only a couple hours to get through everyone (sometimes as many 30 singers). The other singers may not be best pleased.
-Do smile, show confidence, and above all enjoy!
Singer Jacqui Hicks and Romy Summers other thoughts.
Hicks: -You should know what tempo you want to do the song and be prepared to count the band in. Any song can be done at different tempos, so you can’t assume the band will know your tempo for a particular song.
Summers: -Bring more than one song, or you run the risk that someone else will just have done exactly the same song you have chosen
-Know what key you want to sing your songs in and bring a chart with the song in that key.
Details of Open Mic Nights
Vortex (N16) : First Sunday of each month. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nelson (NW1) : Second Tuesday of each month. Contact : email@example.com (Chris Legee)
RamJam (Kingston): Third Monday of each month: Contact: Sarah Liddell 07951 539 638
Hugh Mitchell’s Thursday jam at the Charing Cross Hospital bar also welcomes experienced singers, and I have heard very good singers at the Sunday afternoon jam at the King’s Head in Crouch End. (Joe Paice of Jazz Services also helped with this feature.)
Chris Legee at firstname.lastname@example.org is the one who knows the scene best…email her with any questions….