The loss last month of a major figure in British jazz, saxophonist and composer DUNCAN LAMONT, is keenly felt. Daniela Clynes, who was one of the four singers who performed at the birthday concert at the 606 Club, which turned out to be his last ever performance, remembers the occasion and what led up to it, and all four of the singers pay tribute a fine musician, a gentle man and a gentleman. In sadness.
Background: “The Duncan Lamont Songbook” shows
Over the last decade “The Duncan Lamont Songbook” show has been performed at various prestigious venues in London and across the UK. The show was a chance for Duncan to present some of his huge catalogue of compositions and tell stories of his lifetime’s work in music (both in the UK and in the USA). Duncan had become renowned for his witty anecdotes about himself and the numerous legendary musicians he had worked with over the years.
Duncan had recently returned from his homecoming show of “The Songbook” in Greenock, Scotland, the first time he had been back in sixty years. This had given him the wonderful opportunity of revisiting many old haunts from his youth, with lifelong friend Joe, and son Duncan Jnr. That very special performance, to a packed house in Greenock which even included some long lost relatives of Duncan’s, was obviously deeply significant to him, and the concert with a great Scottish trio led by pianist Steve Hamilton, was filmed by Tony Day.
The 606 – 1 July 2019
Two weeks later, Duncan was back in London performing his annual birthday gig at the 606 Jazz Club; just days before his 88th birthday. This featured singers: Tina May, Esther Bennett, Sarah Moule and Daniela Clynes, with pianist John Crawford, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Steve Taylor.
Although it was evident that he had become quite frail at this point, Duncan nonetheless was able to produce an incredibly strong sound on the sax. So much so that people were remarking at how impressive his solos were that night.
His storytelling was as erudite and self-effacing as ever, winning the audience over with his humour and charm.
Duncan’s incredible work ethic meant that he attempted to write a song a day, and even produced a completely new composition for performance on this gig.
At the end of the evening, various singers and instrumentalists came up on stage to join the improvised celebrations in honour of Duncan.
How poignant that this was to be his last gig, and how amazing that he was able to perform right up to the end of his life.
Duncan Jnr has told us that his father said the following morning how much he enjoyed that gig – “a night so full of love and laughter”.
Personal reflections of working regularly with Duncan by the four singers who performed at the 606 on 1 July 2019.
I loved the way Duncan had always ‘just written a new song’ or ‘re-written a lyric’ – always striving for something he was happy with. This was the case on 1st July – I sang a new song with a revised lyric dedicated to Bill Evans called ‘Your Waltz’.
Duncan’s songs, always so well crafted, are also like personal short stories or ‘vignettes’, full of real-life emotions, imagined scenarios (Algonquin Hotel – Dorothy Parker and co and ‘Camille’ a cancan dancer the like of Mlle Eglantine or Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge, in Paris..).
Duncan played beautifully, as always, on that birthday gig… Always good-humoured, telling his stories… I adored singing ‘Manhattan in the Rain ‘- which we recorded together on Hep ‘My Kinda Love’. The whole evening was full of love and warmth… and so was Duncan Lamont, the wonderful songwriter, arranger and tenor saxophone player.
His was a life well-lived, and he was a dear and inspiring friend to us all.
Duncan Lamont – What can I say and where shall I start?
In the beginning, I suppose where I met him in the bar at the 606 almost a decade ago and where we chatted about music and singing and where he suggested that I do some of his songs.
I took him up on that suggestion and it kind of snowballed from there.
“The Duncan Lamont Songbook” gigs incorporated other top singers, all of whom had either worked with Duncan or had performed his songs and a bunch of world-class musicians including, more recently; Duncan Lamont Jnr (with whom I shall be continuing the show in tribute to his Father)
We really took the show on the road.
We had great gigs and great times.
And everything was fun.
I learned so much from Duncan over the years but mainly that – nothing is a big deal.
Nothing really matters.
All that matters is music, good people and life.
I miss you Duncan
And thank you x
SARAH MOULE (and SIMON WALLACE):
Neither Simon nor I can remember when we first met Duncan but from the mid-90s we would bump into him at the 606 Club or the old downstairs bar at Ronnie Scott’s and would invite him to our gigs where he’d sit in on a standard or two playing with his inimitable cool intensity. He was always great company and a font of knowledge about every aspect of songwriting. At Simon’s 50th birthday party he was the last to leave at 4 am after holding forth with great erudition on the influence of Edwardian song on pre-1920s Broadway shows. In later years he was constantly writing songs and in 2017 we got together with him to record and video three of his latest compositions. I loved his rangy and sinuous melodies, especially the ballads and have fond memories of taking part in his Songbook gigs. We last saw him at the 606 Club the night before he passed away, his playing was as strong and clear as ever and he was looking forward to the recording session we had planned with him the next week that so sadly never happened.
We all know what an incredible musical legacy Duncan has left us, and how much he influenced, helped and encouraged so many musicians over his long career.
I was introduced to Duncan’s songwriting about 34 years ago, while working with his son Duncan Jnr on my first demo and gig. He sent me a copy of his father’s “Tomorrow’s Standards” song book saying he thought I might like his Dad’s songs. Spot on!
I still have that original copy and still love to find an occasional new song, to me. I have sung many songs by Duncan at my gigs ever since that time; whether it be a classic such as Manhattan In The Rain, or some of his unique Christmas songs. These always connected with audiences whether or not they knew of Duncan previously. Although once you mention the “Mr Benn” theme tune, almost everyone realises they already loved his music since childhood.
Duncan’s incredible brilliance as a complete songwriter (music & lyrics) enabled him to write such personal stories which are immediately relatable for any singer or listener. Either deeply touching such as “It’s Always Autumn”, which brought me to tears as I was learning it; or witty, fun songs such as “I’m Gonna Dance With Fred Astaire” which also shows Duncan’s love of the great musicians and performers who had influenced him.
The great story telling of “Manhattan In The Rain” always seemed very filmic to me, and I managed to film a video for that song on a trip to NYC with my partner Tony Day. Duncan said how much he appreciated it, as he did of so many other bits of work together since then. We filmed a long interview with Duncan talking about his life and career as well as some of the recent gigs.
It has been such an honour to share the stage with Duncan in recent years, having him instruct me on how he wanted the songs sung, demonstrating phrasing of the melodies and clarifying the attitude to some lyrics. Each rehearsal or gig, every conversation and joke still resonates in my mind with warmth. I knew I was lucky to be having those experiences and I told him so regularly. Especially lucky to have gone to Scotland, with Esther, for his special homecoming gig in June.
I had been planning to record some of his songs soon with Duncan on sax (the biggest regret); and in preparation I went round to his house to go through new songs. He had set up about 50 songs for us to go through that afternoon! I was supposed to chose a handful to take home to learn… it was almost impossible to choose and I ended up coming home with at least 30 songs I would be delighted to record.
What an inspiration in so many ways… thank-you, dearest Duncan for the songs and for being a wonderful mentor… we miss you so much.
LINK: Tony Day at tonyday/tv