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.