For the last five Wednesdays at Crazy Coqs, beginning on February 5 and ending March 4, pianist Chris Ingham has performed a series of linked shows under the umbrella title “Celebrates The All Time Greats” with the subjects being, in date order, Dudley Moore, Hoagy Carmichael, Stan Getz, Johnny Mercer and Richard Rodgers. No two shows had the same line-up and ranged from duo to quartet and featured guest musicians on trumpet, tenor sax/clarinet and guitar. I missed the first show but caught the final four; Hoagy been filed and this report will concentrate on the final three shows, Stan Getz, Johnny Mercer and Richard Rodgers.
I was at Pizza Express when Chris Ingham launched his new album celebrating tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. One year on he was at Crazy Coqs revisiting Getz with the not inconsiderable help of Mark Crooks on tenor plus Arnie Somogyi, bass and Sebastian De Krom, drums (depping for George Double). It’s really refreshing that on a miserable Wednesday evening with all the negative news grabbing the headlines they still had the rope up 10 minutes before the 7pm start time and the auditors ranged across the spectrum from 20-somethings to seniors. The programme was much the same as last year but the old favourites – Moonlight In Vermont, Shine, Early Autumn, Windows, Voyage – and the rest had been given a fresh lick of paint in the interim and insinuated their way out of the bell of Mark Crooks’ tenor like the aroma of fresh-baked bloomers in a bakery, complimented to a fare-thee-well by the rhythm section. Another brilliant gig well worth the standing ovation it received.
Highly gifted musician as he is, Chris’s keyboard skills are only one third of his performance. They’re supplemented by (1) his vocal ability and (2) his masterly narration on the performer in question, deftly blending biographical data with gossip, anecdote and rumour. In Mercer’s case, this embraced his ultimately doomed romance with Judy Garland and the songs it inspired, the minor hit song for which he provided lyrics for music by Fred Astaire, a lifelong amateur composer, and Mercer’s alcoholism. All this was narrated against a background of some of the choicest material in The Great American Songbook – Laura, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Midnight Sun. Fools Rush In, One For My Baby, Satin Doll, to name only a half dozen. If – for me at least – Hoagy was the highlight of the five shows, Mercer was not far behind.
In a profession where fickleness is seen as a virtue – the average composer having had more lyricists than Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw combined had wives, the average lyricists more composers than the combined husbands of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Elizabeth Taylor – Richard Rodgers was unique inasmuch as he worked with only two lyricists in over 40 years: Lorenz (Larry) Hart – 1919/1943 – and Oscar Hammerstein 1943/1960. The music Rodgers turned out when working with Hart was light years ahead of anything he produced with Hammerstein – more vibrant, more dynamic, more exciting, more energetic, in short with more balls. Yet out of 13 Dick Rodgers melodies Chris contrived to include 10 with lyrics by Hammerstein to a mere three by Hart, a bias that verges on the tragic if you happen to revere this stuff as some of us do. Okay, it is only a movie, Ingrid, but so is Casablanca, Brief Encounter.
For this final show in the series, Chris performed as a duo with Mark Crooks on tenor and clarinet. If you were among the spellbound auditors at Crazy Coqs on Wednesday you’ll know you could hear a pin even thinking about dropping. Overall a fine series of concerts that I’m sure 85% of patrons would be happy to see again.
Chris Ingham in tribute to Stan Getz, Johnny Mercer and Richard Rodgers. Crazy Coqs, Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED, 19 February – 4 March 2020