Tina May at Crazy Coqs, London

Singer Tina May and pianist James Pearson come over real enough via a stream from the West End in tribute to the late saxophonist Duncan Lamont

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Tina May. Photo by Adrian Korsner

This is the first live gig I’ve covered for Jazz Journal since March which makes seven months and change and a long time between drinks. After a hiatus like that even Fink’s Mules are going to look good but I lucked out and drew a tasty duo in the shape of Tina May and James Pearson who were road-testing a new album they recorded back in January entitled Fifty-Second Street And Other Tales, a celebration of songs composed by the late Duncan Lamont who died recently just shy of his 88th birthday and was widely respected as both a musician (tenor saxophone) and composer.

Although he hailed from north of the border, Duncan had a special affection for New York and this is reflected in a handful of the baker’s dozen titles that comprise the evening and that includes such quirky titles as The Algonquin Hotel where, incidentally, another fine composer, Alec Wilder, kept a room for most of his life. Wilder is not name-checked in the lyric although both Dorothy Parker and George S (for Simon) Kaufman are, along with the celebrated “round table”, the dining club of which they were both members. As may be imagined this kind of subject matter pays more attention to words than to music and we do, as it happens, have to wait until the fourth number for anything approaching a melody. This, ironically, is a composition celebrating the virtues of actress Bette Davis.

Ms. May’s accompaniment is billed as The James Pearson Trio though in the event what we get is solo piano and both performers are to be congratulated on the finesse with which they deal with an audience which, in these parlous times, is capped at 45 (although the event was also available via live streaming, which is, in fact, how I caught it).

Ms. May talks us through each selection providing a full measure of relevant data and segueing fluidly into the songs themselves, scatting as required and in one case trading fours with Mr. Pearson. It is, of course, possible that the audience were requested to refrain from overt demonstration so that each number was met with what sounded like the exact same level of muted applause making it impossible to discern which, if any, selection scored more brownie points than others and though this must have bemused the performers they gave no sign of chagrin and behaved as if every number was a triumph.

It may well be that streaming will turn out to be the only game in town for the foreseeable future for people such as me who spend great wodges of time watching and listening to live performers and then reporting on them; this will bring into play a whole new set of pros and cons. On the plus side one, is not obliged to venture abroad in inclement weather and/or brave the vagaries of public transport nor purchase refreshment. On the other hand one could argue that these are small prices to pay for the buzz of an actual live experience, the chance to debate/discuss with other auditors and perhaps congratulate or chide the performers. Although my own opinion is that there is no substitute for the real thing, if all streamings are as accomplished as well as this one I’ll be content.

Tina May and James Pearson perform Duncan Lamont. Crazy Coqs, 7, Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED, October 13, 2020.