I can count myself as lucky to have seen iconic Beat-generation poet Allen Ginsburg perform, shortly before he died back in the 1990s. That energy, enthusiasm, dry humour, stabbing wit, poignancy and boundless zest for life – I’ll never forget the power of that performance.
Tonight, I was equally privileged to see the amazing Fran Landesman, American poet, lyricist and one of the last living links to the Beat Generation. What a woman. What chutzpah. Her energy, enthusiasm, dry humour and terrifically pointed one-liners, along with her incredible catalogue-like memory of her poetry – at age 84 – are astounding. Her lyrics describe the things one often only wishes could be expressed in words (or said out loud in polite company) – from the poignant ‘Scars’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Came’ to the sassy ‘I Want to be Good’ – there are boundless brilliant lines.
Last night’s show, celebrating Fran’s vast career of more than 50 years, was a moving, funny, and evocative evening of songs, words and laughter, performed immaculately by celebrated jazz vocalists including Ian Shaw, Gwyneth Herbert, Sarah Moule and Nicki Leighton-Thomas.
The performance featured a trio of double bassist extraordinaire Dave Green, with Fran’s guitarist son, Miles Davis Landesman, plus her expert composition partner of nearly twenty years, pianist Simon Wallace. He had co-written all but three of last night’s tunes. It started out with award-winning vocalist Gwyneth Herbert and ‘The Ballad of the Sad Young Men.’ Gwyneth’s clean, eloquent phrasing complemented the text perfectly – and set the mood for a fantastic evening of Fran Landesman’s varied and witty lyrics. The synergy between Landesman’s words and Wallace’s scores is evocative, sometimes melancholy, sometimes frisky, and always right-on-the-money. Amazing!
Host Joe Paice guided Fran expertly through various key moments of her illustrious career, including anecdotes involving Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Susannah McCorkle, Dudley Moore, Annie Ross, Marty Feldman, Bette Midler and countless other famous names from the 20th century. One of her songs in particular, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,’ boasts recordings by Ella Fitzgerald & Barbara Streisand among countless other famous names – and Fran’s favourite rendition, by BBC Jazz Vocalist of the Year two-time winner Ian Shaw – who once again delivered the song immaculately at Leicester Square Theatre last night.
Fran’s own singing and recitations of her poetry were sensational – I particularly loved ‘Crown of Thorns,’ ‘It’s Not Your Night’ and her tear-provoking ‘Scars.’ Other highlights of the evening included Nicki Leighton-Thomas’ dynamic version of ‘Damned if I Do’ (also available on her wonderful CD dedicated to the songs of Wallace & Landesman), guest singer Pete Atkin’s moving version of ‘Snows of Yesteryear,’ and Sarah Moule’s versatile rendition of ‘Nothing Like You’ (a song which was recorded by Miles Davis in 1967 on his album ‘Sorcerer’).
Having been nicknamed the ‘Patron Saint of Lovers & Losers,’ Fran Landesman’s remarkable lifetime catalogue of songs were celebrated in a worthy manner last evening – may there be many more such nights!