|Clarke Peters, Jamie Davis, Clare Teal, Elaine Delmar,
Anthony Kerr (vibraphone) and The Promunards
Photo Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Prom 35 – Story of Swing.
(Royal Albert Hall. 11th Aug 2015. Review by Alison Bentley)
‘Is there anything that sounds better than a glorious roaring big band?’ compere and singer Clare Teal asked the packed Royal Albert Hall. ‘There is…two of them!’ Last year’s big band Prom was billed as the ‘Battle of the Bands’ highlighting the music of Basie and Ellington. This year, big bands led by trumpeter Guy Barker and trombonist Winston Rollins sat side by side, sometimes playing separately; sometimes all together in an exhilarating rush of sound. It was a ‘..celebration of the swing era, 1935-1946.’ The wide range of music, mostly with the original arrangements, jumped back and forth within that era, to vary tempos, instrumentation and vocal styles. Teal filled in with well-informed and entertaining anecdotes.
Some pieces had been adapted by Barker, including Armstrong’s West End Blues. Armstrong’s iconic introductory solo, (with its delayed triplets, often hailed as the very beginning of swing) had been magnificently harmonised: a fanfare with a bluesy roll.
Teal took the Ella Fitzgerald role in Sing Me a Swing Song (and Let Me Dance), with a strong sense of swing, while Rollins’ band played Sugar Foot Stomp with a New Orleans vibe- you could hear the swing emerging from ragtime. Both bands together played King Porter Stomp, showing how the same arrangement could be performed differently: Goodman’s version (more laid back) and Chick Webb’s (more ‘urgent’- Teal)
Photo Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Jamie Davis’ opulent voice was one of the gig’s highlights. His phrasing in Prisoner of Love was a little like Nat King Cole, but several fathoms deeper.
Many leaders of the era ran small bands alongside their big bands. Denys Baptiste brought his own style to the Lester Young part, in the Count Basie’s Kansas City 7 version of Lester Leaps In. There were some younger British musicians: drummer Shaney Forbes (last seen with cutting edge band Empirical) was swinging fiercely and Femi Tomowo (last seen playing West African guitar) was strumming, Freddie Green-style.
Teal’s thoughtful take on I Got It Bad had a fine alto solo from Howard McGill. Things hotted up with White Heat (advertised in 1934 as the fastest tempo ever recorded), and cooled down again, as James Pearson’s piano arpeggios billowed through the horn lines in Smoke Rings. Then the tempos increased: Davis’ luscious Marie led into Teal’s kicking Let Me Off Uptown (I once heard Anita O’Day sing this at Ronnie Scott’s and Teal sounded just like her.) Mike Lovatt(principal trumpeter with the BBC Big band and John Wilson Orchestra) hollered through the Roy Eldridge part- Lovatt’s high-wire solos thrilled the audience throughout the evening.
In (I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo, Davis sang in call and response with close harmony group The Promunards– a delight. Skyliner’s punchy melody over long, sinuous lines concluded the set with precision and fun.
The second set added a string section (greatly increasing the number of women on stage, but was a little under-amplified from my seat) Trumpet Blues and Cantabile moved from rollicking blues to a smoother section. Teal’s voice had an O’Day coolness in Why Don’t You Do Right? In contrast, the sweet orchestration of Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight sounded more like a 20s dance band; Andrew Playfoot’s singing was part Crosby, part Coward. Opus One dived from a riffing roar to a subtle backing for the clarinet solo.
There was massive audience appreciation for Handful of Keys, perhaps because in this quartet, (based on Benny Goodman’s) you could hear everyone’s individual virtuosity. Anthony Kerr’s vibes and Alan Barnes’ clarinet harmonised at the speed of light along with Pearson’s piano and Matt Skelton’s drums. Elaine Delmar sang Lover Man with a Sarah Vaughan-like magnificence, while in What Is This Thing Called Love?, The Promunards harmonised bebop lines, tight and light-hearted, responding to the clarinet melody- showing how swing was moving into bop.
The prommers were too tightly packed in to dance, but a few brave ones tried out some rhythmic gestures, as the power of both bands was unleashed in the overlapping horn lines of Song of the Volga Boatmen. Vocalist Clarke Peters helped to recreate the Cotton Club feel: ‘I’ve often wondered what it would sound like to hear nearly 6,000 people singing along to Minnie the Moocher in the Royal Albert Hall?’ said Clare Teal, and the audience sang with great gusto.
All the singers were onstage for the appropriately-named Sing, Sing, Sing over driving Afro-Latin drums, to the audience’s increasing excitement. Like the finale of a firework display, a final medley had soundbursts exploding all over the stage in a highly-disciplined frenzy. In the Mood, Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, Well, Git It!, One O’Clock Jump andFlying Home took us to the point where swing verges on jive and rock ‘n’roll. The audience wouldn’t let the bands go- they came back for a brief reprise of Sing, Sing, Sing.
It was wonderful to hear the energy of these big bands live: overwhelming layers of sound that still left space for the details. A chance to experience some of the excitement of swing.
Available on iPlayer, with more info about arrangers.
To be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 14th August and BBC 4 TV on 28th August.
Photo Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
West End Blues / Struttin’ With Some Barbecue – Tribute to Louis Armstrong
Sing Me A Swing Song – Chick Webb & his Orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald
Sugar Foot Stomp – Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra
King Porter Stomp – Benny Goodman & Chick Webb
Prisoner of Love – Nilly Eckstine & his Orchestra
Lester Leaps In – Count Basie and his Kansas City 7
I Got It Bad – Duke Ellington & his famous Orchstra with Ivie Anderson
White Heat – Jimmie Lunceford & his Orchestra
Smoke Rings – The Casa Loma Orchestra
Marie – Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra with Chorus
Let Me Off Uptown – Gene Krupa & his Orchestra with Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge
(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo – Glenn Miller & his Orchestra with Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton & The Modernaires
Skyliner – Charlie Barnet & his Orchestra
Trumpet Blues and Cantabile – Harry James & his Orchestra
Why Don’t You Do right? – Benny Goodman & his orchestra with Peggy Lee
Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight – Paul Whiteman & his Orchestra with Bing Crosby
Opus No.1 – Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra
Handful of Keys – The Benny Goodman Quartet
Lover Man – Billie Holiday with Orchesta directed by Camarata
What is this thing called Love – Artie Shaw & his Orchestra featuring Mel Torme and his Mel-Tones
Song of the Volga Boatmen – Glenn Miller & his Orchestra
Minnie the Moocher – Cab Calloway & his Orchestra
Sing Sing Sing – Benny Goodman & his Orchestra
2015 Proms Battle Royal
Sing Sing Sing – Reprise
Guy Barker Big Band
First Violins : Sonia Slaney, Anna Szabo, Miles Brett
Second Violins: Debs White, Harriet Davies, Hazel Correa
Violas: Mandy Drummond, Elisa Bergersen
Cellos: Tony Woollard, Joely Koos
Saxophones : Colin Skinner, Alan Barnes (also clt.), Karen Sharp, Patrick Clahar, Jessamy Holder
Trumpets: Nathan Bray, Tom Rees Roberts, Chris Storr, Martin Shaw
Trombones: Nichol Thompson, Alistair White, Harry Brown, Mark Frost
Piano: James Pearson
Bass: Sam Burgess
Guitar: Mitch Dalton
Drums: Shaney Forbes
Winston Rollins Big Band
Saxophones: Howard McGill (also clt.), Alex Garnett, Rob Fowler, Chelsea Carmichael, Gemma Moore
Trumpets: Andy Greenwood, Mike Lovatt, Freddie Gavita, Kevin Robinson
Trombones: Gordon Campbell, Andy Wood, Ashley Horton, Richard Henry
Piano: Peter Edwards
Bass: Alec Dankworth
Guitar: Femi Temowo
Drums: Matt Skelton
The Promunards (vocal group) : Emma Smith, Davy Randall, C.J. Neale, David Coombes, Andrew Playfoot
Tenor sax- Denys Baptiste
Vibes- Anthony Kerr
Vocals- Andrew Playfoot
Solo vocalists: Clare Teal, Jamie Davis, Elaine Delmar, Clarke Peters