INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Richard Pite / Paris After Dark: 1930s – 1950s (Cadogan Hall, 30 March 2019)

Will Britain be outside the EU on 30 March? Or won’t it? Either way, what better way to indulge in a little Europhilia than with the Jazz Repertory Company’s new show: Paris After Dark: 1930s – 1950s. Peter Bacon asked JRC driving force Richard Pite all about it:

LondonJazz News: Your new show at Cadogan Hall, Paris After Dark, is most aptly timed, yes?

Richard Pite: Yes, it wasn’t planned. As my French singer Nicolle is not driving over in her articulated truck I’m hoping she won’t have too much trouble getting into Britain.

LJN: It’s Paris, it’s night time, it’s between the 1930s and the 1950s – what can the audience expect to hear? What is the general ambience you’ll be recreating?

RP: It’s something of a challenge to recreate the atmosphere of an intimate Parisian cabaret club in a building that was once an Edwardian Christian Science church but we’ll do our best with some atmospheric lighting and delightful music.

LJN: And who will be doing the recreating?

Susan Black as Edith Piaf
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RP: Susan Black is taking the role of Edith Piaf, she has the voice, the style and the drama, however she’s somewhat taller (Edith was about the same height as Toulouse Lautrec).

Nicolle Rochelle is singing the songs of Josephine Baker. Nicolle took the lead role in Looking for Josephine at the Opéra Comique in Paris where the show ran for two years. I first saw Nicolle perform at The Whitley Bay Jazz Party in 2017 and I was utterly smitten – a few years earlier there I had seen and also worked with the wonderful Cécile McLorin Salvant and I think Nicolle is another truly great performer in the same style as Cécile.

Nicolle Rochelle
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Looking For Josephine told the extraordinary life of this singer who, as soon as possible,  escaped the hideous racism of 1920s America and made Paris her home. Amongst the extraordinary things Josephine did was fight with the French Resistance and by doing so put that poseur Jean Paul Sartre to shame.

Then we also have the music of the Quintette du Hot Club de France famous for the pairing of gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Very often these days their music is recreated (for budgetary reasons) with just one guitar but you really need to hear the music with the sound of three acoustic Maccaferri guitars chugging along in swinging unity to experience a rhythmic thrill that, in the right hands, is one of the most uplifting sounds in music (the other being the music of pianist Erroll Garner). If you’re suffering from the Brexit Blues the music of the Quintette is a much needed transport of delight. Nils Solberg is our Django and Mike Piggott is our Stéphane – they’ve been working together for decades and are nonpareil.

Mike Piggott and Nils Solberg
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LJN: Your Jazz Repertory Company specialises in this kind of thing. What’s the attraction for you in combining history and jazz in this way?

RP: Well jazz music developed and changed so rapidly through the 20th century that you had to be quite fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to hear the finest musicians in their pomp.  They either died far too young or the Musicians Union prevented them from coming to the U.K. for 25 years (through the ’30s to the ’50s) or the style you really liked was suddenly yesterday’s news and a legendary soloist was now on his uppers.

Fortunately London has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to jazz musicians who can recreate the long gone musical innovators and geniuses. This doesn’t mean to say they haven’t got styles of their own – they have, but they are skilled enough to come up with the goods you require.  You want Clark Terry? – call Jim Davison, Louis Armstrong? – Enrico Tomasso, any pianist between 1900 and 1950? – Nick Dawson or Martin Litton or Colin Good or Keith Nichols. We are blessed.

LJN: And is it fun doing the research?

RP: Sometimes. But sometimes I make mistakes. I featured The Atomic Mr Basie in my 1956 show.  Close but no cigar.

LJN: Has modern jazz lost a little glamour and theatricality along the way?

RP: Some smart Alec once said a Tory is someone who likes radical ideas from 50 years ago. That’s me and jazz – I’m just getting round to listening to Bitches Brew and I really, really like it (at last!).

Richard Pite
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LJN: After Paris in the ‘30s to 50s, where next? Any ideas?

RP: The Jazz Repertory Company has four other shows at London’s Cadogan Hall this year. We’ve used the venue for over ten years now and I like it because we aim to use the minimum of amplification in all our concerts and the hall is just the right size and the right acoustic to allow us to get away with just microphones on the voices. This set up is much more pleasant to listen to and authentic too. Another good thing about Cadogan Hall is it’s only a minute’s walk from Sloane Square tube station.

On 11 May I’m presenting the Syd Lawrence Orchestra in a show called Heroes of the Skies to celebrate the centenary of the RAF Benevolent Fund. I hope lots of people come to this as we intend to give a wodge of cash to that organisation. On 21 September we celebrate Miles Davis in 1959 with Freddie Gavita as the trumpet soloist. We’re doing music from three of the Miles/Gil Evans albums (I’ve been in love with these albums since I first got spots) as well as Kind of Blue and Milestones.

On 13 October we re-run our very popular show Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller at Carnegie Hall 1939. Pete Long will be clarinetting and also master of ceremonies. We’ll also be featuring some music from John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing which also took place at Carnegie Hall the same year. This one is a hugely entertaining show.

Finally, for the EFG London Jazz Festival on 24 November I’m doing my most ambitious show yet –  Swingin’ with Strings. A 40-piece orchestra and music by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker and Artie Shaw. Claire Martin is featured as is Iain Mackenzie and we also have Ryan Quigley on trumpet and Sammy Maine on sax. It is ruinously expensive but it will be fabulous. Please, please come and help save my marriage! (pp)

LINKS: Paris After Dark: 1930s – 1950s at Cadogan Hall

Jazz Repertory Company

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