LJF: Elaine Delmar at Crazy Coqs

Venerated singer who might well be a national jazz treasure paid tribute to Lena Horne, rising to meet Mabel Mercer in the process

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Elaine Delmar in 2019. Photo by Louis Burrows Photography

The title of the show was “Elaine Delmar: A Musical Salute To Lena Horne” and, just as it says on the tin, albeit long-windedly, that’s exactly what it was, one superb artist offering a tribute to another. Some 22 years the senior of the two, Lena Horne could easily have been the biological mother of Elaine so what is on offer here is one generation nodding to the one that preceded it.

All I can say is that every performer should have Elaine Delmar saluting them. She really is the very best there is, with a voice that on ballads resembles nothing so much as Royal Jelly being strained through finest Burano lace and on bouncers is as stylish as Concorde sidling up to Mach 2.

With the help of Jamie Safir (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Pat Levett (drums and harmonica) she laid 16 numbers on an enraptured audience, doing her best to go through the card in terms of heavy hitters. She gave us Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Arlen and Youmans, but for me the standout was Let Me Love You, by Bart Howard. Until this evening the tune was owned lock, stock and barrel by Mabel Mercer.

It’s not the first time I’ve written the names Elaine Delmar and Mabel Mercer in the same sentence and I doubt it will be the last. There is, of course, no higher praise to bestow on a female performer than to compare them favourably with the doyenne of cabaret entertainers and Elaine Delmar is worth every word that does so.

The sole negative, which is purely personal, is that Ms Delmar failed to mention, let alone select from, a wonderful album Horne released in 1959, A Friend Of Yours. It was devoted to the songs of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke and chock-full of gems such as But Beautiful, Like Someone In Love, Sleighride In July, etc.

This is, of course, a minor caveat and I can’t fault the evening itself or the programme that Ms. Delmar opted for. On the first day of the LJF I wrote of Gabrielle Ducomble that she would be difficult to eclipse. I’m here to eat those words.

It’s not really the done thing for a gentleman to mention a lady’s age, but when I say that Elaine Delmar was in her pram whilst the Battle of Britain was raging overhead, perhaps you’ll understand why I say that we must treasure and savour to the full this truly supreme performer for as long as we are able.

Elaine Delmar at Crazy Coqs, 20 Sherwood Street, London as part of the 2022 EJF London Jazz Festival