Soho has always had a close connection with jazz – a century ago, Sidney Bechet used to wander round the London district browsing in music shops – and it is fitting that the new Boulevard Theatre, which nestles in the heart of Soho in Walker’s Court, is introducing a late-night jazz series to accompany its drama, comedy, burlesque, cabaret and poetry. Martin Chilton found out more:
The former home of the Comic Strip has been reinvented as a new flexible space, which features Europe’s most advanced revolving theatre and a two-floor glass bridge leading to a restaurant and bar area. The Boulevard opened last month with a production of Ghost Quartet and later attractions include a production of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited and a play directed by Kathy Burke.
Jazz, however, will play a prominent part in the line-up of London’s newest theatre. Pianist, composer and arranger Alex Webb, of the Copasetic Foundation, is responsible for curating a late-night autumn season of jazz concerts under the title Soho Sounds: Jazz. Webb, who counts Bud Powell and Chet Baker among his influences, is well-known for his work with vocalists. The performers he has selected for The Boulevard include Cherise Adams-Burnett, China Moses, Jo Harrop and Anna Ross.
The jazz shows, which began on Wednesday 6 November, run from 10.30pm in the evening – after the main theatre show – and are described as the Boulevard “Lates”. The inaugural jazz evening in this stylish setting featured singer David McAlmont, with special guest, saxophonist Tony Kofi. They were supported by the Boulevard’s house band: Webb on piano, Pete Hill on drums and Andy Champion on double bass.
Tomorrow (Wednesday 13 November), Los Angeles-born China Moses, now residing in London, is the main attraction. Moses, the daughter of singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, is a famed jazz singer in her own right and her impressive back catalogue includes This One’s for Dinah, her Blue Note Records’ homage to Dinah Washington.
On 20 November, Durham-born singer Jo Harrop, whose voice has been praised by Courtney Pine, will be the main attraction alongside Webb’s band. Harrop, whose warm, intimate style owes something to influences Anita O’Day, Julie London and Peggy Lee, worked with Webb on the 2016 album Call Me Lucky. Harrop has also been an in-demand backing vocalist, working with Neil Diamond and Enrique Iglesias.
The following week, 27 November, brings singer-songwriter Anna Ross to town. Ross, who spent more than a decade as Duran Duran’s backing vocalist, has worked with Lisa Stansfield, Tom Jones and Sting. Although she is acclaimed in the world of popular music, Ross also has a deep passion for jazz. Ross often performs the Great American Songbook canon, favourites once sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday. “I have been singing for as long as I can remember. My mother plays classical piano and before I could even speak I used to sing melodies back to her,” Ross recalled.
December’s programme begins on Wednesday 4 with Vimala Rowe. As well as being a talented jazz and soul vocalist, Rowe has also studied classical Hindustani singing. Her 2016 duo album Out of The Sky, with acclaimed guitarist John Etheridge, was widely praised.
Rowe is followed by Cherise Adams-Burnett on 11 December, winner of the 2019 JAZZ FM Best Vocalist award. Adams-Burnett, who graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in 2017, has performed at the BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall (with Clare Teal and the Guy Barker Big Band) and at the Love Supreme Jazz Festival. Adams-Burnett, who was mentored by Dee Dee Bridgewater, counts Anita Baker and Sarah Vaughan among her key influences. This should be a great intimate venue to hear a rising star.
The season concludes, a week before Christmas, with a gig by Vancouver-born Sandra-Mae. The award-winning singer, saxophonist and songwriter has appeared regularly at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, taking the stage with giants such as Roy Hargrove, Herbie Hancock and Joshua Redman. Sandra-Mae even had the honour of opening for Dave Brubeck. She is a talented instrumentalist and soulful singer, whose eclectic influences Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Astrud Gilberto and Amy Winehouse. (pp)