Dena DeRose and Champian Fulton
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 17 March 2022. Steinway Two Piano Festival. Report and phone snap by Sebastian Scotney)
Dateline London W1, March 2022. The first ever concert as a duo by American singer-pianists Dena DeRose and Champian Fulton. Noises off left from St Patrick’s Day revellers in Carlisle Street.
As Keith Jarrett once said: “Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple.” The Steinway Two Piano Festival produces some unique events where the complex touring schedules of musicians are made somehow to align. These one-off encounters are circumstances in which the collaborative instincts and respectful spirit among jazz musicians can be relied upon to make everything work seamlessly and in the moment. We, the audience, have the privilege of witnessing the acts of creation to which all of the forethought, preparation and experience have been brought.
Both singer-pianists – they first got to know each other in New York in about 2005 – had adopted an approach of being scrupulously fair to each other. For example, they swapped ends at half-time so that each had a turn at the noisier Carlisle Street end. I was also clocking how both of them instinctively and naturally play the piano in a way which ensures that the accompaniment absolutely never gets in the way of the voice.
But are those the main things that stay in the mind above all from an evening? Not at all. What one remembers above all from it is the sudden spontaneous laughter, the verve, the compulsive sense of swing, the sheer joy of it all.
DeRose takes particular pleasure in noticing and visibly enjoying what she hears going on around her. People who have studied with her say this is one of the things that make her such an incredibly good and enabling teacher. Fulton, on the other hand, has her own especially joyous way of letting those good times and those happy walking bass lines roll, of spreading a positive vibe around a room.
One shining exemplar of their collaboration, a true one-off, was how they shared the work in Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low”. DeRose, before she sang it, told the story of how saxophonist Houston Person had pointed her in the direction of the verse, the words of which are all about the inspiration that comes from actively listening to music – so perhaps it is unsurprising how well they resonate: (“Listen how our happy hearts are beating/ Like the ocean beats upon the sand/ And our feet in rhythm keep repeating/ Every little movement of the band.”).
She played it freely, dreamingly, colla voce. Then came the delightful moment when the piano duties were handed over to Champian Fulton, so that her life-giving pulse could take hold. First for the little wordless tag, then for the song itself. It was a moment of pure joy in which skills and knowledge and deep understanding of this music were perfectly aligned. It summed up a very special evening
Sometimes I’m Happy ( Vincent Youmans/ Irving Caesar )
(CF) Runnin’ Wild (Gibbs/Wood)
But Not For Me (
How Deep is the Ocean? (Irving Berlin)
Nothing Like You (Dorough)
Get Out of Town (Cole Porter)
East of the Sun
Take The A Train (Ellington)
I’ve Got a Crush on You
All of You (Cole Porter)
When Lights Are Low (Benny Carter)
(DD) Ode To The Road (Alan Broadbent / Mark Murphy)
Day In Day Out (Rube Bloom / Johnny Mercer)
Categories: Live review