Irony raised its battle-scarred head at Crazy Coqs on Sunday evening, as Sam Jewison felt his way – not unlike an infantryman negotiating his way through a minefield – through a programme of words and music created in part to distract a British public from the harsh realities of a Great Depression and a global conflict, even as the current realities of life in the Ukraine and Gaza Strip were punctuating the day-to-day lives the audience left at the door. Given the collective age of those auditors, I can’t have been the only one who felt that, if only fleetingly, this may be one too many ironies in the fire.
For a member of a younger generation decades distant from his sources Mr. Jewison has an excellent taste in popular song. At last year’s LJF he gave us an evening of Cole Porter, and this year he was back with a slew of fine songs penned by British songwriters. Rules were bent a bit: George Shearing, for example, wrote Lullaby Of Birdland after settling in the US and, conversely, Philadelphia-born Manning Sherwin wrote the music for A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square in 1939 after settling in London in 1938.
This was a splendid evening in which Jewison and his two cohorts – Harry Evans on bass and trumpet and Joe Dessaeur on drums and bass – beguiled a receptive audience with 14 examples of British craftsmanship. They ranged from The Very Thought Of You to Smile via London By Night, If I Had You, I’ll Follow My Secret Heart, Limehouse Blues and eight more of similar quality.
The trio – Dessaeur switched to bass and Evans from bass to trumpet for one number only – were very tight and well-oiled and if Sam Jewison’s fingers on the keyboard are a tad easier on the ear than his vocal cords are on the melodies of Ray Noble, Noel Coward, etc, experience should smooth over that in time. Overall, a fine evening and a reminder that The Great American Songbook should take a look over its shoulder now and again.
Sam Jewison: Sings The Great British Songbook. Crazy Coqs, London, 19 November 2023.