Chris Ingham: Hoagy

Leon Nock sees the pianist in "the best live act" he has seen him perform


Back in the day a new saloon opened its doors in the anthracite region of Eastern Pennsylvania. It was named, somewhat imaginatively, The Bucket Of Blood and what distinguished it from the other sawdust parlours was the large cauldron of soup located at the end of the bar. It had been prepared and poured up to the brim of the cauldron on opening day and was never allowed to fall below halfway, being replenished discreetly as and when necessary. It was warm, plain, filling, satisfying, nourishing and if it didn’t exactly put hairs on your chest there were rumours of the occasional rabbit.

I think of that soup whenever I see Chris Ingham in concert, the soup, of course, being his metaphorical repertoire, prepared lovingly in his base, the Hunter Club in Bury-Saint-Edmunds, performed there prior to touring the UK, supplemented discreetly as and when necessary; plain, warm, satisfying nourishing, comforting even and there’s yet another word hovering around my keyboard; civilised.

There is, of course, a school of thought that argues that jazz should be aggressive, confrontational, in-yer-face, carrying the torch into the back of the cave. If there is room for that school then certainly there should also be room for the diametric opposite, the cosy armchair, comfortable slippers school, proposed by Mr. Ingham, seconded by me.

On the first Wednesday in February 2020 he commenced a new season – five tribute acts on consecutive Wednesdays at Crazy Coqs. For the first time in my professional life I missed a deadline due to illness but I attended this, the second, centred on Hoagy Carmichael and I will attend the final three, inch Allah.

If Hoagy Carmichael can be compared to another writer it is Johnny Mercer, two country boys who both ended up in Hollywood. Music, the great leveller.

This is the best live act I have seen Chris perform and when I mentioned this to him he said perhaps it was because he had been doing it the longest. With Paul Higgs on trumpet and Joe Pettit, bass, they laid 17 superb Carmichael numbers on us, ranging from early efforts like Riverboat Shuffle and Lazybones to the Hollywood years – How Little We Know and Ol’ Buttermilk Sky. If, inevitably, there were omissions – The Nearness Of You, Memphis In June, Little Old Lady – there were also wonderful surprises like The Old Music Master and My Resistance Is Low.

I realise it’s early days and I have a lot of gigs lined up but they’ll have to be pretty damn good to equal let alone eclipse Chris Ingham’s Hoagy.

Chris Ingham: Hoagy. Crazy Coqs, Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED. 12 February 2020.