LJF: Elaine Delmar with the Mark Nightingale Big Band

Fronting trombonist Nightingale's top-drawer 16-piece band, Delmar surpassed herself on Gershwin, Youman and more

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Elaine Delmar in 2019. Photo by Louis Burrows Photography

I’ve seen vocalist Elaine Delmar with just a piano for accompaniment, then a trio, then a quartet and finally a small combo but never with a big band – until today that is, because, as part of the 2022 London Jazz Festival, she’s playing a double header at Pizza Express, Holborn – a matinee at 1 pm and an evening show at 8 pm.

When presented with a choice I’ll always opt for a matinee, in case it gets dark early, and so 1 pm found me ensconced at ringside counting the musicians as they mounted the stand to make sure the management hadn’t short-changed us which, I’m happy to say, they hadn’t. They promised 16 and 16 there were – five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, plus a conventional rhythm section, piano, bass and drums.

We don’t, alas, get too many big bands in London, although I have been lucky enough to see both Down For The Count and the Gareth Lockrane outfit, and enjoyed both. Nightingale’s band featured seasoned musicians playing (largely) the Great American Songbook and it’s an unalloyed joy to hear 16 top musicians wailing through such staples as Cheek To Cheek, It’s All Right With Me, That Old Black Magic, The Trolley Song, etc. Ms. Delmar even throws in her take on Noel Coward’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen.

I could talk about the brilliant Delmar until the cows not only come home but go out again and come home once more. She has a standard, unattainable by most fellow performers, that she never falls below and at least once in every live gig exceeds. On this particular concert, for example, she laid two outstanding vocals on us, Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me and Vincent Youman’s More Than You Know, in each case including the verse.

In short it was a superlative gig with, for me, icing on the cake inasmuch as I was on speaking terms with two of the musicians – drummer Bobby Worth and saxophonist Mark Crooks – and was able to cut up a few touches with both. This was, indeed, a highlight of the LJF.

Elaine Delmar with the Mark Nightingale Big Band at Pizza Express, 99 High Holborn, London, 20 November 2022, as part of the 2022 EJF London Jazz Festival