BBC Big Band with Elaine Delmar, Claire Martin, Ian Shaw, Jacqui Dankworth, Emma Smith: ‘The Art of Swing & Song’, Thu 13 July 2023

How often can you go to a concert and see five singers doing their thing with the best big band around?’ The BBC Big Band will take to the stage at Cadogan Hall on 13 July alongside a stellar line-up of singers for a night of big band classics celebrating ‘The Art of Swing & Song’. The concert is being held to honour the memory of John Boddy, the renowned jazz promoter and musician who passed away after the effects of a stroke in 2019. Together with his son Jonathan, Boddy ran JBA concerts, one of Britain’s most renowned music agencies. The gala concert, organised by Jonathan, is both a celebration of great music and musicians, and a fitting way to support the Stroke Association charity, who will be raising money on the night.

Izzy Blankfield spoke to BBC Big Band director Barry Forgie about the upcoming gala concert, which will showcase some of the most exciting talent on the British jazz scene.

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‘The Art of Swing & Song’ was only intended to be a one-off event when it first took place at Cadogan Hall in early 2020. But given the huge popularity of the first two shows and the musicians’ and organisers’ enthusiasm to make the gala something of a tradition, it’s no surprise that the concert is now in its third incarnation.

The audience is in for a treat. This year’s concert will celebrate the legacy of some of the 20th century’s most iconic vocalists who have left their mark on the jazz of past and present. The diverse repertoire, arranged and performed by the BBC Big Band, will include popular classics by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, to name just a few.

The BBC Big Band, under the expert direction of Barry Forgie – the band’s director for almost fifty years, will be joined by five special guests for a night of timeless classics. The solo line-up is made up of veritable superstars of the UK jazz scene: vocalists Jacqui Dankworth, Claire Martin, Ian Shaw, Emma Smith and Elaine Delmar.

Both Martin and Delmar performed at the previous gala concerts in 2020 and 2022, while Dankworth, Shaw and Smith are joining the bill for the first time. Outside of the festival circuit, the concert will give the audience a rare chance to hear five of London’s most sought-after vocalists share a stage.

“The music is much more muscular when singers have to work with a big band. The noise is just amazing. Working with 16 musicians going full pelt – it’s exciting!” Forgie says.

Each vocalist will perform a handful of accompanied songs with the band, with their sets interspersed by big band tunes, curated and performed by Forgie and his ensemble. The band will have the chance to demonstrate their versatility, moving between rambunctious group numbers and smoother, more mellow accompaniments.

A highlight of the evening will undoubtedly be Forgie’s original arrangement of ‘Come Fly with Me’ – a staple of the previous two Cadogan Hall concerts – which will feature all five soloists on stage at once. “It’s about getting singers together and using the band to find new ways to explore classic material,” he explains.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Boddy

There will be a certain spontaneity to the concert, with five singers bringing their own style to their performances. Martin and Delmar will treat the audience to classics of the American songbook, while Dankworth’s performance will showcase her cross-genre virtuosity. Seasoned big band singers Shaw and Smith are sure to sparkle through an exciting variety of swing solos.

As well as swing-era classics and modern interpretations of familiar tunes, the audience can look forward to some surprises along the way: “It’s really got something for everyone – fans of vocal jazz, fans of big bands – and people like that they can hear a lot of different singers.”

A spectacular repertoire of swing classics performed by five world-class jazz vocalists and one of the UK’s best big bands – this is sure to be an unmissable evening and a wonderful tribute to John Boddy and his lasting impact on the jazz scene.

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LINKS: More info and book on Cadogan Hall website

Stroke Association website

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