Celebrating Duncan Lamont (606 Club. 24 February 2020. Review by Brian Blain. All photos by Tony Day)
If the show at Steve Rubie’s great 606 club in Chelsea last Monday to celebrate the life of saxophonist , arranger and songwriter Duncan Lamont, who died last July, the day after his final gig at the same venue, told us one thing, it was that we will never see a musician like him again.
On the bandstand, fronted by Lamont’s son, Duncan Jr., were many of the musicians who had played in his ‘occasional’ big band, eighteen of the heaviest jazz and session musicians of the last forty years. Waiting in the wings were five of our finest singers, Daniela Clynes, Tina May, Sarah Moule, Esther Bennett and Elaine Delmar, who had done so much to burnish Lamont’s reputation as a songwriter, a talent much more appreciated for many years in the U.S. by singers such as Mel Tormé, Blossom Dearie and, more recently, Natalie Cole.
Yes, we will never see his like again; who else could be famous for writing the engaging theme tune for the popular children’s TV programme, Mr Benn (which the audience loved) and at the same time have been a constant member of Kenny Wheeler’s imaginative and challenging big band?
So successful have the singers been in drawing attention to his songwriting that it was salutary to be reminded by his son that his dad was once a part of the most exciting era in the history of the music.
An anecdote about his being led to the jazz cornucopia on 52nd Street by the great arranger Johnny Mandel, led to an exciting composition, 52nd Street, with Tina May soaring above the band in full cry with lots of subtle little allusions to Parker’s melancholic and faintly menacing intro to All The Things You Are, the brass phrases of Dizzy’s Manteca and Monk’s Rhythm-a-Ning. Drummer Steve Taylor was great on this piece with strong powerful phrasing matching the section writing beautifully. A trombone feature, Brookmeyer, with outstanding contributions from Mark Nightingale and Gordon Campbell, showed that Duncan’s mind really was in tune with the very best of the era. Later, his piece inspired by that iconic photograph of New Yorks’ finest, A Great Day in Harlem, was saturated in Cannonball soul-jazz with hip vocals from Sarah, Daniela and Esther.
The Big Band at “Celebrating Duncan Lamont”. Photo credit: Tony Day
Elaine Delmar bridged the idioms of an English folksong piece with John Crawford (piano) and Andy Panayi (flute) and then floated majestically over the whole band in Hymn to Jobim.
Elaine Delmar and Jay Craig. Photo credit: Tony Day
There was so much more from a thrilling salsa piece with the erroneous title Costa Plenty – “not one of dad’s more successful titles” – and to hear the great lead trumpet of John Barclay leading a brilliant trumpet section of virtuoso masters and on Ms, Yazz Ahmed, an indication of Duncan’s continuing empathy with younger players, with that classic ‘shout’ was a rare treat.
A big thank you to Duncan Lamont Jr. for organising an incredible variety of music, Steve Rubie for presenting it, and a packed house for a tremendous atmosphere. Truly a triumph.