Arguably the first person who remarked “It’s good, but is it jazz?” was a monkey-suited member of the audience at the Aeolian Hall in Manhattan on the evening of 12 February 1924 when Paul Whiteman unleashed George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on an unsuspecting public. On the other hand the question could just as easily have been uttered 3 June 1952, when, in his penultimate recording session for Columbia, Frank Sinatra cut “The Birth of the Blues”.
The “Is it jazz?” conundrum is always with us; I myself in Jazz Journal have devoted ink to such non-jazz artists as Elton Hayes (folk), Tennnessee Ernie Ford (country) and Andre Kostalanetz (pop) and I raise the matter now because I have just returned home after fighting my way through a standing ovation at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. There I both watched and listened to an entertainment billed as Liza Pulman Sings Streisand.
I should make it clear from the start that this is neither a tribute show nor does Ms Pulman make any serious attempt to sound like Barbra Streisand; it is, in fact, what it says on the tin, Liza Pulman – who is, incidentally, a member of Fascinating Aida – performing songs associated with Barbra Streisand. It’s good – excellent, in fact – but is it jazz?
Well, Ms Pulman is abetted by six good men and true. We get just enough hot licks from the trumpet and tenor, and pianist Joseph Atkins’ charts are jazz-inflected enough in 70 to 80 per cent of cases to get the night under the wire as “jazz”. The 22 numbers offer a well-balanced programme ranging from “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long” and ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” to “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?” and “People”.
My one caveat concerns the presentation: Ms Pulman was clearly frightened as a child by a lyricist because she namechecks seven composers and only one wordsmith. She omits no less than 19 songwriters, ranging from Victor Young and Harry Warren to Alan Jay Lerner and Yip Harburg. My feeling is if she is going to credit writers she should go for all or nothing.
The show will be back at the Lyric for three more Mondays in April and if you respond to a powerful voice caressing standards and are not averse to pithy, sophisticated banter and topical cracks – both Michael Jackson and Donald Trump took one for the Gipper in between numbers – then you could do much worse than check out Ms Pulman.
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand; The Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London; 18 March 2019