The Jazz Repertory Company has a new show devised by Richard Pite.
“A Night At The Harlem Apollo 1962” will have its premiere at Cadogan Hall SW1, on Sunday 25 September, at 7pm. Interview by Sebastian.
LondonJazz News: What is the significance of 1962 and why did you choose that year in particular?
Richard Pite: There is a sixty-years-on theme here. Back in 2016, we did a show featuring some wonderful albums from 1956. Basie’s April in Paris, Ella’s Cole Porter Songbook, Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. The show sold out, so each year at Cadogan Hall we would have a night where we went back 60 years. In 2019 we just stuck with Miles Davis as 1959 was such a remarkable year for him. 1960 and 1961 were cancelled…so here we are in 1962.
LJN: And why the Harlem Apollo?
RP: I think the Harlem Apollo and 1962 got lodged in my mind because of James Brown’s famous live album from the venue in that year.
I really like the idea of putting the jazz of a certain era amongst the popular entertainment of that time. One of our shows recreated Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington’s appearances at the London Palladium in 1932 and ’33. Back then they appeared alongside Max Miller, George Formby, magicians, jugglers and novelty acts. Duke was 14th on the bill! When we listen to jazz today it’s more often than not just jazz on its tod. Back in 1962 it would have been presented alongside R&B acts, soul, pop, comedians, vaudeville acts, burlesque dancers – it was part of the patchwork of popular culture and even if you weren’t uptown in Harlem you’d have seen jazz on TV variety shows and chat shows.
LJN: So there is jazz… but there will also be surprises
RP: Pete Long’s Big Band will be playing some great charts by Lionel Hampton and Count Basie and backing four superb singers and two dancers.
In our 1957 Jazz Jamboree show we brought out our secret weapon right at the end, a remarkable performer called Earl Jackson who sings and plays guitar and duck walks a la Chuck Berry. The audience went bananas. For this show we had to bring back Earl to do some more Chuck Berry and we’ve also got the divine Vimala Rowe taking the role of Dinah Washington and the honey-voiced Wayne Hernandez doing a lovely selection of Sam Cooke favourites.
LJN: The Master of Ceremonies was a very important role at the Apollo…
RP: Yes it was, and we’ve got Shenton Dixon to do that for us. A very versatile performer with a background in theatre. We’d wondered about doing comedy routines but I’m not sure 1962 gags about President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe and skits on Sammy Davis Junior and Harry Belafonte would work very well in 2022. On this occasion he’s just introducing the acts and will be doing a couple of hot hits from the era.
LJN: There seems to be an awful lot to cram into a two-hour show!!!
RP: When you look at footage of the Apollo shows from this time they move along incredibly quickly. The acts would run on to the stage – bish, bash, bosh, no hanging about – get on with it. It’s a variety show mixed with an athletics event particularly with our dancers Charlotte and Josephine hot hoofing it around the stage to Ray Charles and Duke Ellington.
In 1962 you’d have got all that for $1.25. Well, we can’t be that authentic but it’s still a very reasonably priced ticket for a little time travel for all those people too young or too skint or too far away or not yet born to enjoy.
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