Lately I’ve been struck by the thought that were the artists I review in London pop rather than jazz performers they would be described as “tribute” bands – time and again a whole evening is built around one performer/songwriter, from Blossom Dearie to Barbra Streisand to Dudley Moore to Stephane Grappelli and more.
It’s possible that I’m more aware of this because until a couple of years ago I used to take off every March and spend it driving the US-based singer Marlene VerPlanck to every gig on her annual UK tour. While she devoted three of her 20-odd albums to individual writers – Alec Wilder, Richard Adler, Johnny Mercer – she never did anything remotely similar in live performance, offering instead, chapters from The Great American Songbook.
All of which brings me to my latest excursion. It was at The Pheasantry in Chelsea and was the first of two consecutive evenings in which Daryl Sherman explored the vocal output of Louis Armstrong. Actually Armstrong is a fairly good choice because although he strayed into serious schmaltz (What A Wonderful World) in his later years, he did cover a wide spectrum in a long career.
Ms. Sherman, who enjoys a solid UK fan-base (the rope was up on the first night) is, of course, a double-threat, possessing not only great pipes but an equally fine piano style. She accompanied herself throughout, assisted by Digby Fairweather, trumpet and Andrew Cleyndert, bass (they metamorphosed on Daryl’s second evening into Alan Barnes, reeds, and Dave Green, bass).
The first set kicked off with Hoagy Carmichael’s Jubilee which Armstrong introduced in Every Day’s A Holiday, one of the many films in which he appeared from the 1930s onward. Next up was another number popularised by Satchmo in the 1951 movie The Strip, though it was actually written – by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, and Oscar Hammerstein – as far back as 1935.
Although Daryl and Digby took the lion’s share of the solos – and Daryl can play some pretty nifty piano if anybody asks you – Andrew Cleyndert was allowed to strut his stuff about every third number and overall the evening was a fine balance of swing and vocals.
In the second set they played Jeepers Creepers, another film song that Armstrong actually sang to a horse. Not a lot of people know that and I say it with confidence because the film in question, Going Places, was released in 1938 or 81 years ago whichever is the greater so that anyone who recalls seeing it would have to be around 91. Perhaps the most unusual and refreshing number was the Calypso from the 1956 movie High Society. It was the very first number, coming right at the start, in which Cole Porter spells out the entire plot in four four-line verses which he puts in the mouth of Satchmo.
I don’t have space to do justice to even half the remaining titles whether novelties (I Double Dare You), standards (Stars Fell On Alabama) neglected oldies (The Gypsy), or obscure (Summer Song) suffice it to say it was a great evening thoroughly enjoyed by all those present.
Daryl Sherman: Satchmo The Singer. The Pheasantry, King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4UT. 16 July 2019.