|1958: A Jazz Jamboree
Photo credit: Nils Solberg
Come Fly with Me… Let’s Face the Music and Dance… Cheek to Cheek… all will feature in
1958: A Jazz Jamboree, a new programme from Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company. The vocalists are Iain Mackenzie, Georgina Jackson, Liz Fletcher and Jeremy Sassoon with the Pete Long Orchestra and narrator/host David Hepworth. Martin Chilton investigates:
1958 was a pivotal year for Frank Sinatra. He recorded 47 songs, starred in two films and had his own television show for ABC. Two of the Capitol albums he released 60 years ago – Come Fly with Me and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely – became popular classics.
Sinatra is one of the musical giants being celebrated with 1958: A Jazz Jamboree, a concert from the Jazz Repertory Company at London’s Cadogan Hall on Friday 8 June.
Over the past decade, The Jazz Repertory Company – the brainchild of drummer and promoter Richard Pite – has staged a series of entertaining recreations of great jazz, including the bold challenge of presenting 100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes.
Pite explains the background to the event: “Back in 2016 when I turned 60 I decided to do a concert focussing on some of my favourite jazz of 1956… Basie, Sinatra, Ella, etc. The concert was part of the London Jazz Festival and sold out.”
A celebration of 1957 followed and now they are honouring 1958. Pite says they concentrate on big band music and will also be performing the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Ray Charles. “The presentation of our shows harks back to the old ways of presenting jazz and popular music as more of a variety show formula, but without the dog acts and comedians. We feature four singers in the 1958 show: Iain Mackenzie will sing Sinatra, Georgina Jackson sings Ella, Liz Fletcher performs Nina and Jeremy Sassoon sings Ray.”
These bright talents of British jazz will be backed by the 17-piece Pete Long Orchestra and the concert will be hosted by author and broadcaster David Hepworth, whose career includes editing Smash Hits magazine and co-presenting the BBC broadcast of Live Aid with Bob Geldof in 1985.
Hepworth has been touched by the music of Sinatra, whose Come Fly with Me was nominated for album of the year at the inaugural Grammys. Hepworth says of Sinatra’s enduring popularity, “I’ve always thought that the great singers sound as though they’re continuing a conversation by other means. Nobody does that better than Frank Sinatra.”
Capitol’s masterpiece Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook was arranged by Paul Weston and produced by Norman Granz, and this acclaimed pair brought out the very best from a world-beating singer performing lyrics of the quality of Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Cheek to Cheek and Putting on the Ritz.
Hepworth believes the appeal of all this great 1958 music is in part down to the care taken in creating it. “I think a lot of it is the way the records were made,” he explains. “In those days you had to be able to do it in the studio or you couldn’t do it at all. Therefore, the engineers were brilliant at capturing the qualities of the human voice.”
Fitzgerald’s music will be sung by jazz singer Jackson, who learned her trade as a lead trumpet player and who worked with Frank Sinatra Jr before becoming the resident singer of the Ronnie Scott’s Orchestra.
Fitzgerald was 41 in 1958, when she was already an established superstar. Simone was just starting to make her mark. In that year the former classical pianist recorded her debut album Little Girl Blue. The album includes Simone’s version of My Baby Just Cares for Me, which resurfaced as a top 10 hit in 1987. Fletcher, who was influenced by 1950s stars such as Peggy Lee and Julie London, once supported Simone at a festival in Greece.
Pite says that the aim of the concerts is to transport listeners back to golden eras of jazz “by playing the music authentically and, most importantly, with the fire in its belly that it had when being played by a bunch of young punks 60 to 90 years ago”.
Among their future projects is as an event celebrating the music of 1899 to 1919, under the title of The World Gone Mad, for the 2018 London Jazz Festival.
In 1958, Ray Charles, also still in his 20s, performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and was starting to create some of his classic Atlantic Records catalogue. His scintillating version of Doc Pomus’s Lonely Avenue was for 1958’s Yes Indeed. Charles’s music, including the pulsating I Got a Woman, will be performed by Sassoon, noted for his ‘Ray Charles Project’ tribute work.
Hepworth was only eight in 1958 (he would like to have seen Blossom Dearie live back then, he says) and recalls that his own involvement with jazz began when he was a teenager. “I saw Louis Armstrong play in 1967, which makes me sound like a survivor of Waterloo,” he says. “In the mid-1970s I spent three years working at the biggest record store in the world, during which time I began to get an inkling of how much I didn’t know, and I started to buy jazz and classical records alongside everything else.”
Jazz sits within the wide world of music, of course, and that is reflected in these shows. As Pite says: “We always have an encore that reflects the fact that during this period rock ‘n’ roll was outside the walls of jazz and banging noisily and ultimately successfully on the gates. For 1956 we finished with the music of Bill Haley and in 1957 the marvellous Earl Jackson was joined by a dozen dancers for a Chuck Berry finale. This year we’ll be doing something similar but keeping it, as ever, as a surprise.”
So what made the project so appealing to Hepworth? “I like the idea of combining music with narrative,” he says. “Somebody should be doing this with rock music.” (pp)
For ticket information see:A Jazz Jamboree
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