It’s been a strange few days. Not least because the book I was reading morphed into what I was doing. And vice versa.
I’ve had my head buried deep in the pagesof a great new novel. It’s called Admission, and it’s a riveting 450-page read. The author, Jean Hanff Korelitz, tells the tale of a Princeton University admissions officer who manages to turn both her job – sifting through applications and sitting on admissions panels – and also her family life, incidentally – into extreme sports.
I also spent a day sitting on the judging panel myself. Last Saturday was one of the main events of the London open mic scene, the Angela Carrington Awards. As a panel, we worked our way through the competing claims of twenty-seven open mic singers at the Vortex. Our job was to whittle them down to just four for the final. It was not easy, but we had a method, and, no, it didn’t become an extreme sport. Romy Summers from Cadogan Hall is a classy organizer. I also had good company on the panel – three singers , Chris Legee, Sarah Liddell and Yots. And the singers performing were in the very professional and capable hands of the indefatigably positive Joe Stilgoe (above). He put in a very long day, keeping a smile throughout, at the keyboard of the Vortex’s Steinway.
I’ve written about the open mic scene before. Just like the jam sessions for instrumentalists, these nights are part of the beating heart of the London jazz scene.These people who perform themselves as amateurs are part of the community. Because they love the music. Because through doing it themselves, through conquering nerves, they have an appreciation of quite how good our top artists are. They are a key part of the core audience for jazz. It was only about 48 hours after the competition that I ran into to two of the Angel Carrington contestants at Ronnie Scott’s.
On the day we had fun. Stilgoe would use the piano to do a commentary. The Countdown theme to fill in a wait. “Sunny Side of the Street” – dangerous- to describe the weather. I treasure a few moments. One contestant prefaced her song with: “Aliens have abducted my second song- I swear it on my boyfriend’s life.” Another with “I would like to add my name to the list of affluent white women who want to sing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” And one male contestant had written a new, hell-bent-on-revenge setof words for Careless Love, complete with the following:
“I found you in your best friend’s husband’s bed…
And something told me we were through.”
I wonder what.
Worthy finalists are Brigette Bennett, Anna Bernard, Rachel O’Reilly, Clive Raven. The final is on Sunday April 11th at the Vortex starting 8pm.
Chris Legee has written in to comment by email
It was a memorable day and you've caught the flavour of the event beautifully, Sebastian.
Just to mention that the proceeds from the Auditions and the Charity event on April 11th go to the Manic Depression Fellowship which assists people with bi-polar disease.
These events at the Vortex are held in memory of Angela Carrington as you mention. Angela was a fine musician and jazz singer who took part in many London open mic sessions but, unbeknownst to even close friends, suffered from mental illness and took her own life on May 20th 2005.
She was not a competitive person so the events
are held to choose a representative of singers at open mic events here in London rather than a winner in the competitive sense.
I love this photo of Joe. Was it taken on the day? I know the photo of the
panel was taken by jazz critic, Les Tomkins.
Perhaps jazz singers and lovers of vocal jazz would like a list of open mic nights here in the capital?
Best wishes, Chris Legee from Singers' Night at Nelson
Thanks Chris, much appreciated. I don't know where the Joe Stilgoe photo is from . I couldn't find a credit with it.
Re your question about directing readers to informationabout other open mic nights….the answer is at hand:
can I suggest Chris Legee's site
Hi – I was one of the competitors and although a nerve jangling first attempt at this event – had a lovely day. What company, what passion, what music!
Many Many thanks…
And to follow up on Sebastians quote….the aliens returned my music….apparently they just wanted to learn some Gershwin '!!!