Singer/pianist Jeremy Sassoon explains the improbable set of events which led to his recording of “The Things We Handed Down” reaching a number one position the iTunes vocal download chart earlier this month. He writes:
I remember Steve Jobs coining the phrase “connecting the dots” in his famous Stanford Lecture of 2005. He suggested we may only understand the significance of certain things we do in life retrospectively, when certain “dots have joined together”. He cited a calligraphy course he took for no apparent reason whilst unemployed, unaware that stylish fonts and typeface would ultimately become the hallmark of his multibillion dollar empire.
I’ve scattered more than a few seemingly meaningless dots of my own over the years; several of which happened to connect a few weeks back to propel my name to the top of Mr Jobs’ very own iTunes vocal download chart.
The journey starts many moons ago at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London W1. Five years a medical student there, I met many characters, the intellectualati-to-be, behaving in unspeakable ways in college bars, not least a young chap called Hugh Montgomery. Hold that thought. Anyway, as it turned out twelve years later I left my medical career for one in music in 1995.
After a few years as a professional keyboard player, I met a remarkable jazz and gospel singer Paul Bentley and we formed a tight partnership. We honed our skills on residencies, not least at The Cinnamon Club in Cheshire where we built a more than decent following.
On a private christening gig we were asked to perform a tune called “The Things We’ve Handed Down” by Marc Cohn. No, we’d never heard of it either, but it was so powerful, we ended up recorded it on our album “Bacon or Pastrami?” and launched the album at the Cinnamon Club in 2010. Days after the launch, Paul suddenly had to give up singing for personal reasons and for the first time ever, through necessity, I took over. Amongst my other projects I started to front my 11-piece musical tribute to Ray Charles, and 2 years later the show headlined at Ronnie Scott’s. This brought me back full circle to London W1, yards from the site of my old medical school. Out came the old medics in numbers to Ronnie’s, now eminent professors, surgeons and physicians. It was the worst night to have been ill in London. Hugh Montgomery, now Professor Montgomery attended; he bought both my albums and fell for that song, The Things We’ve Handed Down.
He asked me to re-record the tune, which I did this January just as he was asked to appear on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. He decided to submit the song as one of his eight alongside the Stones, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, selected it as his castaway’s favourite, and the public response was overwhelming. My website was brutally assaulted for two weeks, downloads were copious, and by midweek, Joni Mitchell and Etta James were left floundering in my iTunes vocal chart wake. A most diverse set of dots had finally connected. And that’s the story.
All that’s left is to sincerely thank all the wonderful people from both of my careers who inadvertently clubbed together to provide a surreal moment of career satisfaction: Professor Hugh Montgomery, the couple who had the christening, Paul Bentley, Neil Hughes at the Cinnamon Club, Paul Pace at Ronnie Scott’s and Christine Pawlowsky and Kirsty Young at Radio 4. Oh and Steve Jobs I guess.
Listen to the Desert Island Discs programme HERE (Sunday 23rd February). Jeremy Sassoon’s song is from [40:52]. Jeremysassoon.com